Last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 wounded when James Field, an avowed neo-Nazi, plowed his car into a crowd protesting a white supremacist rally.
Just as President Trump shielded white nationalists from specific criticism in his initial remarks about the event, six Republican lawmakers in various states are trying to protect drivers who hit protesters with their cars, ThinkProgress reports.
In January, two Republican lawmakers in North Dakota introduced a bill that would protect motorists who hit protesters blocking traffic, as long as it was unintentional. State Rep. Keith Kempenich claimed he introduced the legislation after his mother was swarmed on a road by people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“A driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages,” the bill read.
It failed 41-50 in the state Senate but turned out to be the first in a spate of similar bills.
In March, Tennessee lawmakers proposed exempting motorists from civil liability after a driver ran into safety workers at a rally protesting President Trump’s travel ban. That failed in a state House committee.
In April, the North Carolina House passed a bill 61-48 that would protect drivers from charges if they hit motorists, as long as they exhibited “due care.” It was in response to a Black Lives Matter rally protesting a police shooting.
Lawmakers in Florida, Rhode Island and Texas have considered similar bills.
“This is a marked uptick in bills that would criminalize or penalize protected speech and protest, and every person should be alarmed at that trend,” said Lee Rowland, an attorney with the ACLU, told ThinkProgress. “We should also be alarmed by the attitude they betray, which is that when Americans get out into the streets and make their voices heard — recently, in record numbers — their elected representatives’ response is not to listen to those concerns but to attempt to silence and criminalize them.”