Friday, January 20, 2017

Running Down Protestors: Bills Sprouting To Stop Civil Disobedience

Will legislation in North Dakota allow motorists to run down
people like this, at the Standing Rock reservation protest site?
Opponents wonder. 
For months, there have been constant demonstrations and protests in North Dakota over the Standing Rock Indian Reservation as people object to oil pipeline construction there.

Other anti-fossil fuel protests have cropped up elsewhere in the nation.

The response from some oil industry-friendly lawmakers is to try and stop the protests, even if doing so is probably unconstitutional.

In North Dakota, a number of people do not agree with the protesters who are fighting the oil pipeline around Standing Rock.   Some lawmakers in the state are fed up with the demonstrations.

Which is their right. Unless they take it to far,

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and many other media outlets, a bill sponsored by North Dakota State Rep. Keith Kempernich, a Republican frrom Bowman, would protect drivers from legal trouble if they accidentally hit, injure or kill pedestriaions who are obstruction traffic.

You can see how this can be abused.  Somebody's pissed off that demonstrators are blocking the road. This somebody is a hothead and decides to ram his car into the people on the road.

And there are some hot heads out there, as a video of masked men threatening protesters at a North Dakota hotel demonstrates. 

Kempernich's proposed law would give this hot head cover. "But officer, I panicked. I thought they were out of the way. I didn't mean to run them over!

Case dismissed.

Kempernich comes down solidly on the side of the not-demonstrating motorists. "If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue.....Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their right to drive down the road....Those people didn't ask to be in this."

The language of the bill does seem to give a lot of cover to people who run down demonstrators on a road, even if Kempenich says the bill is not intended to let people who intentionally run down protesters off the hook.

Says the Star Tribune:

"Under Kempenich's proposed legislation, drivers who negligently injure or klll pedestrians who are 'obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street or highway' would not be liable for damages, and  anyone who 'unintentionally kills' or injures a pedestrian who was blocking traffic 'is not guilty of an offense.'"

Yeah, a lot of people might be irritated when demonstrators block off roadways.  Often, though, it's a form of civil disobedience to call attention to a particular cause. (Black Lives Matter protestors last year sometimes blocked highways)

You can argue whether this form of civil disobedience is a good idea or not, but gosh, does Kempernich's bill open up a potential can of worms.! And possibly some injuries and deaths.

It's not just North Dakota.

In Washington State, a state senator named Doug Ericksen, R- Ferndale wants to label a lot of demonstrations "economic terrorism"  and make it illegal,  notes the Seattle Times.  

His proposal would allow felony prosecutions of protesters who purposely break the law through economic disruptions such as blocking traffic or sitting on railroad tracks.

Demonstrators who oppose rail cars with lots of oil tankers have often blocked trains in Washington and elsewhere, so that's part of where this idea came from.

It looks like what Erickson is doing is going after the money that funds demonstrations, thereby cutting off any publicity or changes in public opinion brought on by protests.

Erickson told the Seattle Times his legislation would go after wealthy, liberal donors, like billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer, or organizations with deep pockets, like the Sierra Club.

Erickson's proposal has little chance of passing, but he ought to be careful what he wishes for. He's a big Trump supporter. What if a pro-Trump crowd blocked traffic? Would they get in trouble under his idea? So far, he hasn't said.

Other states getting in on this are Indiana, where there's a bill that would authorize police to clear demonstrators from roads "by any means necessary."

Now there's a slippery slope. Does that include just opening fire on them and killing all the protesters?

Yes, civil disobedience can be irritating or disruptive. That's the point. However, the United States has a long history of this kind of thing, and despite the short term pain, civil disobedience has almost always created long term gain.

Think the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Womens' liberation in the 1970s. Gay and transgender rights in recent years.

This old cliche is still totally true: The best response to excesses in free speech is more free speech.

Instead of trying to squelch demonstrations, people opposed to all these demonstrations ought to come up with their own arguments as to why their way of thinking is better.

If they do, they might even change minds. What a concept!

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