Bill would give ‘criminal immunity’ to drivers hitting protesters in street, as long as it’s not ‘on purpose’

Running over these said protesters is obviously illegal, regardless of the fact that the drivers are sometimes in imminent danger. 

Because of this, Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that would bring criminal immunity to drivers who hit protesters illegally blocking the road.

According to the bill, if a driver hurts or kills a protester who is illegally blocking a roadway, they will not face prosecutions as long as they “exercise due caution” and do not intentionally hit them. 

Lawmakers supporting the bill say it protects drivers from harm if they’re targeted during a protest.

In a recent hearing on the bill, Representative William Lamberth said:

“If you’re intentionally cause harm this bill won’t cover you, that’s not what we’re trying to do here,” 

FOX17 reported that lawmakers discussed the bill in a criminal justice subcommittee meeting. Representative Bruce Griffey, who co-sponsored the bill, said he wanted stronger language to protect people trying to drive away from protests.

“Maybe [we] add a provision if someone is trying to flee the situation to avoid the life threatening situation and they happen to hurt someone in the course of fleeing,” 

There are mixed feelings on the bill however, as the ACLU and the NAACP of Tennessee are strongly opposing it with the claim that it unfairly targets those who are advocating for social justice and reform. 

NAACP Tennessee legal redress Van Turner said:

“It’s the republican response to the social justice protests a year ago, but nothing to the insurrection we saw in Washington D.C.,” 

The bill also strengthens punishments on protesters. It would upgrade penalties for illegally blocking streets from a misdemeanor to a class E felony. That brings the maximum penalty from $500 to $3,000, and the person would lose their right to vote, FOX17 reported.

Turner said:

“I shouldn’t lose my right to vote because I’m exercising my first amendment right to peacefully assemble in a protest,” 

During the raging riots masked as protests, many innocent bystanders, such as people walking on the street, or individuals eating in restaurants fell victim to the violence around them. 

This bill will also create new laws to address these issues, including making it illegal to throw something at someone during a protest, and making it illegal to harass someone nearby who isn’t part of the protest.

The ACLU’s Policy Director Brandon Tucker issued the following statement on the bill:

“The ACLU of Tennessee strongly opposes this dangerous anti-protest bill, which targets peaceful assembly and undermines Tennessee’s long-practiced tradition of nonviolent resistance.

This legislation would suppress protest by turning obstruction of traffic into a felony offense, robbing individuals of their right to vote if they are convicted of these new felony charges.

It also offers immunity to drivers who run over protesters in the road and criminalizes speech that causes ’emotional distress’ to or ‘frightens’ another person.

This vague and troubling suppression of free speech can easily be abused, leading to the criminalization of protesters’ words and beliefs.

As was demonstrated this past summer, the government does not need more tools to criminalize, abuse or potentially kill protesters. We will be working hard to defeat this disturbing bill.”

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Report: Federal prosecutors quietly dismiss nearly one-third of violent protests cases from summer 2020

March 4, 2021

PORTLAND, OR- According to federal court documents that were reviewed by KGW8 News, federal prosecutors have dismissed more than one-third of cases stemming from the violent protests that occurred on a nightly basis in downtown Portland over summer 2020. 

In their review, the news outlet found that 31 of the 90 protest cases have been dismissed by the U.S. Department of Justice, including a mix of misdemeanor and felony charges. Some of the most serious charges dropped include four defendants charged with assaulting a federal officer, which is a felony.

Reportedly, more than half of the dropped charges were “dismissed with prejudice,” which means that the case cannot be brought back to court. Several former federal prosecutors described this as extremely rare. 

These dismissals of protest cases run counter to the tough talk that came from the U.S. Department of Justice over summer 2020.

Billy Williams, then-U.S. Attorney for Oregon, vowed that there would be consequences for the nightly graffiti, fires, and vandalism outside the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse. In a September 25, 2020 press release, Williams said:

“Make no mistake: those who commit violence in the name of protest will be investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and face prison time.”

In a more recent interview with KGW, Williams explained that the cases were dismissed in instances where prosecutors did not believe they could prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. He said:

“Each case was analyzed for the evidence that we had at the time. Careful decisions were made on whether or not someone should be charged based on the evidence.”

Williams, who stepped down on February 28th as U.S. attorneys are traditionally asked to resign at the start of a new administration, added:

“Everything is case-specific when you go about these cases being processed through the system.”

Federal prosecutors rarely handle protests cases, but when Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt passed on most protest cases saying he was reserving resources for the most serious crimes, the federal government stepped in.

Then-Attorney General William Barr reportedly instructed federal prosecutors to aggressively pursue protesters deemed violent or destructive. Williams said:

“I’ve never made a decision in my career based upon political pressure or institutional pressure.”

Most of the defendants whose protests cases are still pending have seen their trials delayed, mostly because of the continued pandemic. Those defendants face a mix of felony and misdemeanor charges.

Reportedly, three defendants cut plea deals resulting in probation and home detention. Two of the plea agreements required a relatively short prison sentence of 3o days and several people closely involved with the protest cases said that they expect many more federal charges to be dismissed soon.

At least 11 of the dismissed federal protest cases were dropped on or after the inauguration of President Joe Biden. With a new president and a new U.S. Attorney in Oregon, it is unclear how the rest of these cases will be handled moving forward.

Laura Appleman, a law professor at Willamette University who is not directly involved in these cases, believes that federal prosecutors are not making their decisions based on politics. Rather, she think they are considering resources on an already busy caseload. She said:

“The U.S. Attorney’s office has to go through and very carefully ask, ‘Is it worth using our limited time and energy to prosecute each and every of these federal misdemeanors?’”

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Author: K. Winters

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