INSTITUTE INDEX: Southern lawmakers seek new ways to criminalize protesting

Last year there were widespread Black Lives Matter protests following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, like this one that took place in Miami in June. In response, Republican state lawmakers in Florida and elsewhere are pushing legislation that would create new criminal penalties for protesters. (Photo by Mike Shaheen via Flickr.)

Under a bill passed last week by the Alabama House of Representatives and sent to the Senate for consideration, minimum number of months someone could be sentenced to prison for the new felony crime of spitting on a police officer: 6

Number of days someone could be sentenced under the Alabama bill for the newly redefined crime of "riot," a charge that could be brought against protesters who violate a police order to disperse if the protest results in "conduct which creates an immediate danger" of property damage: 30

Also under the Alabama bill, hours that a protester arrested for blocking traffic could be held without bail: 24

Date on which the Florida House is expected to pass a wide-ranging anti-protest bill that includes new criminal penalties for "aggravated riot" and blocking traffic, a top priority of Speaker Chris Sprowls and Gov. Ron DeSantis, both Republicans: 3/25/2021

Under a pending Tennessee bill that immunizes from prosecution drivers who run over protesters blocking traffic, potential years in prison a protester could face for obstructing a sidewalk: 6

Under a bill pending in the North Carolina legislature, number of days that elected officials who order police to "stand down" during a protest could spend in prison: 30

Maximum fine they would have to pay: $10,000

Of Kentucky's 38 state senators, number who voted this month for an anti-protest bill opposed by the state chapters of both the ACLU and the conservative Americans for Prosperity over concerns that it would chill constitutionally protected speech by making it illegal to insult police: 22

Of the 13 Southern states, number that have passed so-called "critical infrastructure" bills that could criminalize protests at fossil fuel pipelines: 6*  

Under a West Virginia law signed last year by Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who owns a coal company, maximum sentence in months for trespassing on "critical infrastructure" in the state: 12

Maximum number of years that someone who damages critical infrastructure in Arkansas could be sentenced to under a bill introduced this year in the state legislature: 20

Total number of bills restricting the right to peacefully protest that have been introduced by Southern state legislators since November 2016, according to the International Center for Not-for-profit Law (ICNL): 24

Number of Southern states that already have such laws in place: 7**

Meanwhile, number of bills introduced in Southern state legislatures this year by Democrats to restrict police officers' use of force at peaceful protests, according to ICNL: 6

Date on which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law a bill that restricts police use of non-lethal ammunition, such as rubber bullets, and mandates training on the use of tear gas: 11/18/2020

* Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.
** Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

(Click on figure to go to source.)