Oklahoma gov signs bill that provides protections for drivers who hit protesters blocking roadways
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) on Wednesday signed a bill that protect drivers who unintentionally injure or kill protesters while attempting to flee their demonstration.
The measure also increases the penalties for activists who obstruct a public street during a protest.
“We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law abiding citizens’ safety will not be tolerated. I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community,” Stitt said, according to local ABC News station KAKE.
House Bill 1674 makes obstructing a public road during a protest a misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine. The bill also states that a driver cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for killing or injuring a protester if they have “reasonable belief” that they are in danger and are “fleeing from a riot.”
The Oklahoma state Senate passed the bill last week in a 38-10 vote.
The debate over driver protections in a protest was partially triggered by an incident in Oklahoma last year in which a driver pulling a trailer drove through a crowd of protesters on a highway in Tulsa. No charges were filed against the driver.
Local NBC affiliate KFOR reported Wednesday that a group of protesters were kicked out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives after disrupting the proceedings on multiple bills, including H.B. 1674.
“You cannot just run somebody over and it be OK because your justification is you felt you were threatened,” said Adriana Laws, the president and founder of the Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition, according to KFOR. “I feel threatened everyday as a Black woman in society.”
Laws said she was led to disrupting the legislation because lawmakers refused to engage in conversations with her and other activists.
“It is our civic duty and our constitutional right to be able to stand up against our oppressor and be able to advocate in our legislature,” she said.
States across the country have seen rising protests over racial inequality and injustice, particularly in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last year at the hands of police.
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