After a summer of rioting nationwide, Georgia lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make it a felony to block a sidewalk or a street after being directed to disperse by a police officer.
According to the text of SB 171, “purposely or recklessly obstructing any highway or street in such a way as to render it impassable without unreasonable inconvenience or hazard and fails or refuses to remove the obstruction after he or she receives a reasonable official request or the order of a peace officer to do so, shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by an imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years or a fine of not less than $1,000.00 nor more than $5,000.00, or both.”
The bill also allows residents to sue local governments if they are injured during the course of a violent protest, if the police were ordered by the government to stand down. In some cases, police have been ordered to stand down while violent riots grip their cities.
SB 171 would also work to the benefit of drivers who are swarmed by potentially violent rioters.
“Itshall be an affirmative defense to a prosecution that the accused caused injury or death to a person… [if] the accused was attempting to flee such unlawful assembly under the reasonable belief that fleeing was necessary to prevent or terminate an attack upon the accused’s property or person,” the bill says.
Violent Black Lives Matter rioters blocked several freeways during the George Floyd riots in the summer of 2020, sometimes surrounding cars. In at least one such case, they attempted to pull a driver out of a vehicle. Unsuspecting drivers have also driven through crowds of rioters, causing injury.
The bill also seeks to amend the state’s criminal statutes against unlawful assembly by adding racketeering as a potential charge for such activity.
State Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Columbus) introduced the bill. He is a former sheriff’s deputy.
“I think the Supreme Court of the United States has held that the First Amendment strongly protects the right to conduct peaceful public assembly,” he told WSB-TV. “But that right to assembly is not absolute.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Political Director Chris Bruce disagrees.
“We need to make it perfectly clear that as a U.S. citizen, you have every right to petition your government, and you have the freedom of assembly,” Bruce reportedly said. “No bill should ever infringe upon that right.”
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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Georgia Star News and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Highway Protest” by Fibonacci Blue. CC BY 2.0.