Bill Inspired by Backlash to 2020 Racial Justice Protests Passes Georgia Senate Panel

know about Bill Inspired by Backlash to 2020 Racial Justice Protests Passes Georgia Senate Panel

Opponents of a Georgia bill argue that it aims to stop protests by trampling on constitutional rights through expanded criminal penalties, additional civil liability for local governments that allow protests, and authorized violence against protesters.

Senate Bill 171 narrowly advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 4-3 vote along party lines Tuesday after a hearing where opponents said the bill unlawfully violates freedom of expression and the right of assembly protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Critics of the bill include First Amendment advocates, progressive organizations like the ACLU, and Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian and conservative advocacy organization.

Under the bill, a person would face one to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 if convicted of blocking a highway or participating in a protest with seven or more people that turns violent or damages property.

Spray painting or other ways of defacing a publicly owned monument, structure, or cemetery could result in up to five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, and the bill to repair or replace the monument.

During the 2020 protest season in Georgia calling for racial justice, confederate monuments across the state they were vandalized, including a prominent marker in central Athens.

Cataula Republican Sen. Randy Robertson has said the bill is intended for events like the 2020 protests in Atlanta that, in some cases, turned violent and damaged businesses to the sound of millions. He also cited the January 6 US. capitol riot.

“What this bill does is protect the rights of any Georgian to go out and exercise their First Amendment rights under the Constitution of the United States of America on whatever subject they choose to do without fear of being assaulted or injured.” Robertson said. “It also reminds cities like Atlanta that citizens pay taxes and that public safety is a primary responsibility of the city.”

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Bill Inspired by Backlash to 2020 Racial Justice Protests Passes Georgia Senate Panel DSC0745
Senator Randy Robertson. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The bill also offers a legal shield to people who injure or kill protesters while fleeing if they reasonably believe they need to do so to protect themselves.

The bill was amended Tuesday to remove property protection from the bill’s proposed justifications for causing injury.

Opponents of the bill argue that it is intended to prevent peaceful demonstrations and protests from taking place on public property by also creating an onerous permitting process. Organizers will be required to provide local government and law enforcement with contact information for those responsible for maintaining order, along with an emergency action plan addressing first aid and safety measures.

Kevin Joachin, a community organizer with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, said the The senators who have signed the bill show their lack of understanding of why it is necessary to protest when other approaches have failed in situations such as the wrongful death of a black person by the police.

“I don’t know what this has to do with places like Cataula, Ocilla, Tyrone, the origin of many of these representatives who support this bill, but it seems that people who are not from Atlanta, who are not black. , who are not from communities of color are trying to prevent progress here in the state of Georgia,” Joachin said.

Robertson’s bill is among a series of tough Republican crime laws that add mandatory minimum sentences, make misdemeanors felonies and prevent offenders from accessing alternative drug and mental health programs.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and other Republican lawmakers cited violent crime rates in Atlanta and other parts of the state as reasons to toughen criminal penalties and provide more resources to police departments, sheriff’s offices and other law enforcement agencies. application of the law.

Civil rights organizations say tougher sentences and other punishments would be a major setback for criminal justice reforms carried out by Kemp’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

On Tuesday, representatives from the city of Atlanta and the county government lobbying organization spoke out against the bill’s provision that says local governments can be sued if local leaders tell police Don’t intervene with the protesters. An Atlanta city council member urged police to stand down when an armed camp of protesters took over a Wendy’s where Rashard Brooks was shot by an officer in June 2020.

Larry Ramsey, an attorney for the Georgia County Commissioners Association, said the law is concerning in 146 of the state’s 159 counties, where sheriffs are responsible for enforcing the law and county commissioners have no control over it.

“I am concerned that many counties are in the position of balancing the state law requirement to have a permitting scheme and then also trying not to trample on the First Amendment of Georgia citizens and free speech rights, particularly in public forums. traditional public spaces such as sidewalks and courthouses. ,” he said.

Georgia lawmakers should focus more on mass incarceration and other criminal justice issues, said Kareem El-Hosseiny, director of government affairs for the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“We are all here debating a bill that would restrict our constitutionally protected rights,” he said. “Even now, as I speak, truckers from across the country are gathering in our nation’s capital circling the Capital Beltway blocking traffic, all to protest government-imposed COVID-19 protocols.

“If SB 171 were to pass, the truckers’ protest would likely be illegal if it happened in this state,” El-Hosseiny said.

Correction: A previous report misstated how the legislation would affect employment opportunities with state and local governments. This provision was not included in the version of Senate Bill 171 that passed on March 8.