During a vote taken at about 12:30AM on Wednesday, Republican legislators in the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a bill cracking down on “riots,” and granting immunity to drivers who hit protesters demonstrating on public roadways.
House Bill 1674 was introduced by Rep. Kevin West to address the year’s increased number of protests and alleged riots in Oklahoma. It is just one example of the legislative efforts Oklahoma Republicans have advanced to combat the issue. Wednesday’s vote was along party lines, with most Democrats arguing that the House’s Republican majority was merely retaliating against protesters instead of addressing the issues that led to the year’s protests: systemic racism and police misconduct.
“Maybe the way to prevent something like this from ever happening again is to make reforms on the broader systemic issue,” Rep. Monroe Nichols, Democrat, commented.
The bill’s most controversial provision grants both civil and criminal immunity to any driver “who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual” if the injury or death happened while the driver “was fleeing from a riot” under a “reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary” to protect him or herself from “serious injury or death.” The provision also requires the driver to have “exercised due care at the time of the death or injury.”
During debate on the bill, Rep. Kevin McDugle, a Republican, argued that the bill “simply says, ‘please stay to the peaceful protests.'” However, he also defended a pickup truck driver who drove through Black Lives Matter protesters in Tulsa last June, seriously injuring three people and permanently paralyzing one man who fell from an overpass. No charges were ever brought against the driver, whom McDugle claimed reacted out of fear for his own safety.
“It’s not going to be a peaceful protest if you’re impeding the freedom of others,” McDugle stated.
The bill also imposes punishments on any “person guilty of participating in any riot,” including a provision that treats all participants equally accountable for any “murder, maiming, robbery, rape or arson” committed, regardless of whether a participant committed said crimes. Another provision authorizes jail time or fines for anyone found to have “unlawfully obstruct[ed] the normal use of any public street, highway or road … by impeding, hindering or restraining motor vehicle traffic.” The same provision also makes “unlawful obstructors” liable for all damages to persons or property caused by the obstruction.
The bill’s last section increases the fines for any organization “found to be a conspirator with persons who are found to have committed [a riot]” to ten times the normal amount.
If approved by the Oklahoma Senate, House Bill 1674 would come into force on November 1.