Arizona Senate approves racketeering charges for riots

Arizona Senate approves racketeering charges for riots
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Republican state senators in Arizona on Wednesday voted to make taking part in or organizing a protest that turns into a riot an offense that could result in criminal racketeering charges, the Associated Press reported.

The legislation expands the state's racketeering laws so that they include rioting, meaning prosecutors could charge rioting as a class 3 felony instead of a class 5.

The legislation gives the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned or participated in a protest, so those who weren't involved in the actual riot could still be charged, The Arizona Capital reported. The law says an actual act is needed to prove conspiracy to a riot.

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The legislation is intended to deter rioters, but critics say it could have an effect on free speech.

“When people want to express themselves as a group during a time of turmoil, during a time of controversy, during a time of high emotions, that’s exactly when people gather as a community,’’ said State Sen. Martin Quezada.  

“Sometimes they yell, sometimes they scream, sometimes they do go too far.’’
 
State Sen. John Kavanagh said there is a situation "where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder."

“A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists,’’ Kavanagh continued. “But this stuff is all planned.’’

“Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts?’’ Kavanagh asked colleagues during debate. “Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?’’ 

The legislation comes as Republican lawmakers across the country are being met with crowds of protesters at their town halls. 

President Trump earlier this week referred to the protesters as "so-called angry crowds."

"The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists," the president tweeted. "Sad!"