Indiana state representative Jim Banks has introduced a bill with the Orwellian name of the “Support Peaceful Protest Act,” which would make those deemed to be rioters “financially liable for the cost of federal policing,” by removing their coronavirus pandemic stimulus and unemployment payments.
In a press release over the weekend, Banks announced the bill and suggested that “Antifa thugs are descending on suffering communities, disrupting peaceful protests and leaving violence, looting, and vandalism in their wake.”
His statement went on to describe protests that took place in different cities like Milwaukee, Seattle, and Portland, suggesting that Antifa has been turning them into “warzones.” Banks pointed to the recent incidents in places like Kenosha as warning signs that Antifa is moving into rural communities. However, his description that a group called Antifa has organized a tour across the country to cause destruction is a drastic mischaracterization of the situation.
The protests and subsequent riots that have occurred in some major cities were all connected to cases of police brutality. These cities became sites of major protests and riots because of the police killings that happened there, not because they were somehow marked as targets for Antifa. Furthermore, threatening to take away people’s benefits in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession is a recipe for more unrest.
“Due to enhanced federal benefits, taxpayers are giving wages to jobless rioters that are destroying our communities. We need to cut them off from their funding and make them feel the full financial consequences of their actions,” Banks said.
It is not entirely clear what criteria police will use to determine who is a criminal and who is a peaceful protester, but human rights advocates are concerned that this type of legislation could be used to stifle protests and threaten peaceful protesters.
Similar measures have been proposed in other areas throughout the United States. In New Jersey, the mayor and police department of a town called Englewood Cliffs, sent a protest organizer a bill of nearly $2,500 for the overtime expenses that were spent as a result of the demonstrations. The organizer is an 18-year-old girl who was not involved in any criminal activity.
This week, Republican Tennesse governor Bill Lee signed a bill that could strip protesters of their voting rights. According to The Hill, under the proposed law, anyone who “illegally” camps on state property as a part of a protest could face a Class E felony, which carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison. Anyone in the state who is found guilty of a felony loses the right to vote. The bill also included a mandatory minimum 45-day hold for any protesters convicted of aggravated rioting. The fine for obstructing emergency vehicles from accessing highways will also be increased under the new law.
ACLU Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg warned that these measures are a direct attack on freedom of speech.
Lee defended the proposed measures saying that there is “lawlessness” taking place on the streets which required heavy force.