COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri senator on Monday pitched a bill that would allow the use of deadly force against protesters on private property and give immunity to people who run over demonstrators blocking traffic.
The proposal is one of several that follow sometimes violent protests in Missouri last summer over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, including demonstrations that blocked traffic on busy roads in the St. Louis area.
“To think that your right to protest enables you the right to stop traffic and literally stop people’s ability to move about freely in this nation is a gross misunderstanding of our constitutional rights,” bill sponsor Sen. Rick Brattin said during the Monday hearing.
The Harrisonville Republican said blocking traffic can be dangerous if it stops ambulances or police from responding to emergencies.
Missouri civil rights leader the Rev. Darryl Gray told committee members that people also disagreed with how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. protested, but “those same methods that you seek to criminalize are the same methods that helped to destroy Jim Crow laws, segregation and destroyed centuries of hatred and bigotry.”
He asked lawmakers not to expand the use of deadly force to those outside of law enforcement.
“If this bill is enacted it would vilify non-violent protesters,” Gray said. “I don’t believe that any members of this august body would deliberately seek to shield drivers who willfully choose to run over protesters.”
Brattin’s bill targets unlawful assemblies on a number of fronts, including making it a felony crime to block traffic as part of a protest. It also would expand misdemeanor harassment laws to include causing emotional distress during protests.
“People can’t even go have a nice meal without being harassed, run out,” Brattin said. “I wanted to ensure that people are able to go and enjoy their freedoms and liberties just like anyone else should be able to.”
Government employees convicted of participating in unlawful assemblies could no longer be paid and would be stripped of all other employment benefits. Cities and counties would be cut off from any state funding if local officials make cuts to police budgets that are significantly deeper than cuts to other services, an effort to stymie activists’ calls to defund the police.
Anyone charged with assaulting a law enforcement official or first responder also no longer would be eligible for bond, probation or parole under the legislation.
The Kansas City police union supports the bill.
The Senate committee hasn’t yet scheduled a vote on the bill.