The Senate today gave final approval to Sen. Trent Garner’s SB 550 to increase criminal penalties for “mass picketing,” a broadly subjective bill part of a national Republican campaign to tamp down popular protest. Authoritarian regimes prefer to stage only rallies FOR their point of view.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson should veto this bill. He won’t. Like others in his party, the 2nd Amendment is a great deal more sacred than the 1st so chances are slim.
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For what it’s worth, the UN sees this issue the same way — dangerous. (Though I understand that, in the era of Trump, world opinion doesn’t count for much.)
UN experts see Garner’s bill and at least 18 others like it around the country as an “alarming” trend to curb freedom of assembly.
“Since January 2017, a number of undemocratic bills have been proposed in state legislatures with the purpose or effect of criminalizing peaceful protests,” the experts said.
“The bills, if enacted into law, would severely infringe upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law and with First Amendment protections. The trend also threatens to jeopardize one of the United States’ constitutional pillars: free speech.”
Concerns about the implication of these bills were recently raised by the experts in a recent communication sent to the US authorities on 27 March 2017. The bills come amid a wave of US protests over the past few years which have intensified in recent months.
“From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the environmental and Native American movements in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the Women’s Marches, individuals and organizations across society have mobilized in peaceful protests, as it is their right under international human rights law and US law,” the experts said.
“These state bills, with their criminalization of assemblies, enhanced penalties and general stigmatization of protesters, are designed to discourage the exercise of these fundamental rights.”
Of course they are.
Senate, don’t pass this bill.
Governor, veto this bill.
Arkansas law has ample laws to enforce to prevent obstruction of traffic. We need no additional encouragement for local law enforcement officials to dream up punitive actions against unpopular points of view. You can imagine what Trent Garner would allow in Camden and what he’d find an “intimidating” and obstructive type of demonstration.
UPDATE: In Senate debate today, Garner assured senators the law would not be abused. And, if it was, he said a good lawyer could surely win an acquittal. Nice burden he’s put on protesters, there, don’t you think? Fear of a need to hire a lawyer if you join a protest. He wiped away concerns about his overbroad language on threats of “intimidation” that could produce an arrest.
To defend his bill, he cited the debunked story that a busload of Arkansas students was impeded by the women’s march on Washington. The violator there seems just as likely to have been a bus driver who drove into a lawful assembly.
The bill passed 18-8, the bare number required.
UPDATE: Related. Give Garner the hypocrite of the day award. Later in the morning, he opposed the gun bill amendment that would keep guns away from football games.
He said the 2nd Amendment was a fundamental right, a “God-given right” even. He said he saw the issue as “fear versus freedom.” The suggestion was that there was nothing to fear from people exercising their God-given right to carry a gun.
He seemed petrified at people exercising their 1st amendment right. Which pretty well underscores my old belief: Pen is mightier than the sword.