Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Anti-Protest Bill Pushed Through North Carolina House

Just four members of the public were allowed to speak on a bill that would increase penalties for inciting a riot, allows police and prosecutors to determine what constitutes a riot and escalates punishment for property damage.

(TNS) — Emancipate NC’s Dawn Blagrove spoke loud and clear on Feb. 8 against North Carolina Republicans’ latest “anti-rioting” bill. She told a legislative committee that the intent of House Bill 40 was to target “Black, brown, and marginalized people” engaging in nonviolent protests. The committee chair responded that her comments were “out of order.”

During a legislative session in which Republicans say they have a “working supermajority” to ram through some of the most pernicious attacks on constitutional protections, personal liberties and basic freedoms the state has seen in a decade, it is legislation like HB 40 that is out of order.

Blagrove was one of four members of the public allowed to speak briefly on the bill before it was fast-tracked through the state House with little public debate or transparency. Now in the Senate, the proposal has all the hallmarks of anti-protest bills sweeping the nation since 2017 — vague and overly-broad policies carrying burdensome penalties and greater felony charges.

This bill is N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore’s second attempt to pass anti-protest legislation. He readily admits it is in response to Black Lives Matter protests, including one near his downtown Raleigh condominium in June 2020 during which he says he witnessed “utter lawlessness.”

Instead of bringing North Carolinians together to provide solutions to actual problems, Moore’s signature legislation in this opening salvo seems to ignore the fact that North Carolina already has laws prohibiting property destruction and violent conduct during riots. Instead, he has doubled-down with an “anti-riot” bill that:

▪ increases penalties for inciting a riot — a term that’s poorly defined in state law,

▪ leaves it up to police and prosecutors to decide if a protest has become a riot,

▪ creates excessive punishment for property damage,

▪ and has a judge, not a readily available magistrate, decide when someone get released, which could result in longer jail stays for civilians who came to protest but got caught up in a riot.

All of that will have a chilling effect on nonviolent protest at a time when our state’s residents need it most.

Moore’s party has already signaled that it craves the power to rig voting maps and make it harder to vote by mail. And since veto overrides have become a distinct possibility in the current legislative session, sweeping attacks on our democracy are not simply likely, but inevitable.

These moments require a “fourth branch” of government to hold lawmakers to account — the people, public interest groups and the press. All must demand full transparency, a fair process and free speech.

Lawmakers know the people-power needed to push back against attacks on our basic rights, including the right to vote, are built on decades of nonviolent protest — from the lunch counter to the legislature. They know that without public pressure to guarantee access to the ballot, their constituents will be unable to turn growing public outcry into public policy.

House Bill 40 is out of order with North Carolina’s history, priorities and values. But for those pushing the proposal through, the timing is just right.

Less a bill designed to solve a North Carolina problem, HB40 is a pre-packaged backlash to movements addressing the most important problems of our day — on everything from teacher pay and police violence to a lack of affordable housing and environmental destruction.

If this bill becomes law, it could not only deter attending protests, but also be used at protests to arrest the same people impacted most by these injustices and possibly take away their ability to vote in future elections.

Like voting, nonviolent protests have long driven change in North Carolina. Now more than ever, we can’t afford a bill that would have a chilling effect on either fundamental right.

Governing's opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing's editors or management. ©2023 The Charlotte Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Special Projects