Arizona — Anyone caught planning or simply participating in an otherwise peaceful demonstration could be arrested and charged under state racketeering laws — but, far worse, authorities would be free to seize their assets — should a new Arizona bill become law.
Police would be granted the power to arrest protesters on the assumption alone that the protest may devolve into a riot — even if it hasn’t.
Republicans answered the alleged problem of professional, paid protesters by introducing the draconian legislation — incidentally aiming a flaming arrow directly at the Constitution.
“When people want to express themselves as a group during a time of turmoil, during a time of controversy, during a time of high emotions, that’s exactly when people gather as a community,” noted Senator Martin Quezada, quoted by the Arizona Capitol Times. “Sometimes they yell, sometimes they scream, sometimes they do go too far.”
Quezada, however, feels the proposed legislation would quash First Amendment rights at the root — striking doubt into the minds of planners, who might succumb to fears a planned protest could turn ugly, and cancel the event.
Proponents of the legislation claim the bill only targets specific groups of demonstrators — not law-abiding citizens gathered to exercise free speech and free assembly rights.
“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” asserted Senator John Kavanagh, adding, without providing any examples,
“A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists. But this stuff is all planned.”
Again, a reckless politician chooses the fraught, popular perception of anarchists, conflating political anarchism with activists and others who employ the tactics of black bloc — dressing indistinctly and in all-black clothing to assumedly make individual identification difficult for authorities — usually in order to perform a purposeful criminal act like property damage.
With the premise for a rights-crushing law resting on wildly biased mischaracterizations — a tactic of broad-stroke language — politicians plainly seek to ensnare everyone not intimidated by the bill’s chilling language on planning.
“Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts?” Kavanagh asked during a debate over Arizona Senate Bill 1142. “Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?”
By appealing to the base emotions of fear and anger, these politicians have crafted a legal cage for the First Amendment — by further curtailing rights under the guise such acts of destruction weren’t already illegal.
And that’s the catch — because myriad destructive acts are considered rioting under current law — politicians expanded the definition of rioting to include “actions that result in damage to the property of others,” the Capitol Times reports.
Kavanagh and other supporters of the bill believe — or at least publicly pontificate — on the imperative to protect property from even the possibility of harm, over the constitutionally-protected right to exercise free speech. They insist the law would help thwart malicious plans by a few truly rotten seeds, but the actuality is murkily-defined guidelines which can be easily exploited by authorities to further curb growing dissent.
“I have been heartsick with what’s been going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,” Republican Senator Sylvia Allen explained, adding that, although current laws do theoretically cover criminal damaging and the like, they’re impotent in practice.
“If they get thrown in jail, somebody pays to get them out. There has to be something to deter them from that.”
Senator Steve Farley disagrees with the Republican solution to deterrence, and admonished colleagues the law could equally target right-leaning protests. For example, Farley explained, a Tea Party protest against property tax, for which organizers obtained appropriate permits and planned accordingly has as much potential to go south as any other given demonstration.
“And one person, possibly from the other side, starts breaking the windows of a car,” Farley said, reiterating not every participant in a planned protest actually supports the cause.
“And all of a sudden the organizers of that march, the local Tea Party, are going to be under indictment from the county attorney in the county that raised those property taxes. That will have a chilling effect on anybody, right or left, who wants to protest something the government has done.”
Because the proposed legislation misunderstands the dynamics of disturbances, Senator Andrea Dalessandro explained, politicians backing it appear to be motivated by something other than fears related to the general act of protesting.
“I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard,” Dalessandro cautioned.
Senators expectedly voted along party lines on whether constitutionally-protected demonstrators should be considered on par with mafiosos, with the resultant 17 to 13 count sending the legislation to the House — and one step closer to becoming law.
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