RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — A bill that would increase penalties for violent protests following the 2020 protests over the killing of George Floyd passed the North Carolina House on Wednesday despite harsh criticism from advocates for social justice. Some bipartisan support signals a possible veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who two years ago issued a veto blocking similar legislation.
Like the 2021 proposal, the new bill was cited by Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, who saw the riots and looting he saw firsthand in downtown Raleigh in June 2020 amid otherwise peaceful protests as the push for the legislation drove.
The bill, which has a House Democrat as its lead sponsor, left the chamber 75-43 with six Democrats and all Republicans present voting yes. Now he goes to the Senate.
Republican gains in the House and Senate since last November’s election now give the GOP a non-veto majority in the Senate and put it in a seat of a similar majority in the House.
State law already makes it an offense to willfully participate in a riot or incite a riot. It becomes a felony if the serious injury or property damage caused exceeds $1,500, with a first offense resulting in active jail time. Penalties for these crimes would increase under the legislation, including a new crime where participating in a riot results in death.
The measure also allows owners whose businesses have been damaged during a riot to seek compensation against a perpetrator for triple the monetary damages. And new rules for bail and preliminary hearings for rioting and looting defendants would give the judge 24 hours to set those terms. Supporters of the bill have complained that otherwise the defendants could be immediately freed by a judge.
Moore and other supporters insist they wholeheartedly support free speech and the First Amendment right to gather to air grievances. But the spokesman said he did not want that right to be misinterpreted and twisted to condone destruction.
“Our current laws…were not strict enough to ensure that those who engage in the most violent and destructive behavior would ever see the inside of a prison cell,” Moore said during the parliamentary debate on the bill. bill, which was considered by two committees earlier in the day. “Today is an opportunity to say that we will stand up and support security.”
Several advocacy groups, whose members frequently attend social justice protests, called the proposal an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement and an attempt to discourage minorities and low-income residents from speaking out.
“This overbroad and still problematic bill is not intended to protect the peace,” Melissa Price Kromm, North Carolina’s director of voters for clean elections, told a judiciary committee on Wednesday. “It’s about silencing dissent.”
Tyler Daye of North Carolina said the law, if enacted, could be used to punish viewers or speakers whose lyrics inadvertently incite violence.
“If there is a riot, innocent and peaceful protesters could be mixed up with intruders who have come to hijack their embassy,” Daye said.
According to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, nine states have passed similar protest laws since June 2020. North Carolina is one of 10 states currently considering new penalties.
In his message to veto the 2021 bill, Cooper said the legislation was “unnecessary and designed to intimidate and discourage people from exercising their constitutional rights to protest peacefully.”
Many House Democrats made similar arguments on Wednesday, even after floor changes were approved to raise the property damage threshold to $2,500 and reduce potential jail time before a judge returns bail. of $48 included in the hours fixed by the initial invoice.
Rep. Amos Quick, a Democrat from Guilford County, said the way to prevent violence is for authorities to respond quickly to wrongdoing. He said the swift crackdown by police in Memphis, Tenn., on the fatal beating of Tire Nichols last month discouraged nationwide unrest.
“I am against riots. I’m against criminal damage, but I’m for justice,” Quick said. “This law does not advance justice by increasing penalties.”
Democratic Rep. Abe Jones, a former Wake County judge who backed the bill, said there was no excuse for someone using a peaceful protest to cause chaos.
“I despise someone who goes out and tears up someone else’s property that they haven’t paid for and takes advantage of a situation – sometimes a really good protest – and then knocks it down,” said Jones, who , like Quick, is black. .
Gary D. Robertson and Hannah Schoenbaum, Associated Press
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