Arizona lawmakers have recently passed a bill that would make it difficult to hold organized demonstrations in the state.
The bill, SB1142, lumps rioting in with racketeering and organized crime.
People attending peaceful protests that turn violent could see their assets forfeited by law.
Even if a person has not committed any violence, their mere presence at the protest is enough to be treated as an organized criminal, “guilty by association.”
Racketeering charges will be leveled against organizers with police eying demonstrators as potential criminals. There are at least 10 states proposing bills to restrict public protests with North Dakota going as far as allowing DAPL protesters to be legally ran over by cars.
Common Dreams reports:
The law, SB 1142, also expands the definition of a riot to include any damage to property, and allows police to make arrests when they suspect a protest will turn violent—even before it actually has.
The Arizona Capital Times explains:
[T]he real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association—and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side.
“This is a total perversion of the RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] process, the racketeering process, and I see major Constitutional issues down the line,” Farley told the Associated Press. “I don’t think this is going to do anything but get us into more lawsuits.”
The chilling of First Amendment rights in Arizona comes as Republican-dominated state legislatures push a wave of anti-protest legislation nationwide.
While voting for the law, right-wing state sentors used the justification that protesters upset with the Trump administration’s agenda are paid provocateurs, a conspiracy theory often touted by President Donald Trump and other right-wingers.
“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican, told the Arizona Capitol Times. “A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists. But this stuff is all planned.”
Moreover, by including protesters under racketeering laws, the police would be empowered to arrest organizers in the planning stages of an event. “Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts?” Kavanagh, a former police officer, asked the senate during a floor debate.
Will Gaona, policy director for the ACLU of Arizona, noted that the states’ police unions pushed for the bill:
Those supporting the bill include the ED of Arizona Police Association and their lobbyist, as well as the President of PLEA (Phx PD Union) pic.twitter.com/0rDrKOXUwr
— Will Gaona (@Will_Gaona) February 23, 2017
“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,” Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat from Green Valley, told the Capitol Times.
SB 1142 is now headed to the Arizona House for a vote.