After years of protests against police abuses in Minneapolis, Baltimore, Standing Rock, and beyond, law enforcement has found a way to try and clamp down on any future mass movements by quietly lobbying for bills that seek to criminalize protesting itself.
According a Monday report from In These Times, police associations, police unions, district attorneys, and cops in leadership positions have been lobbying in favor of “protest suppression” laws in at least eight states:
According to research conducted for In These Times in partnership with Ear to the Ground, law enforcement in at least eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and Wyoming—lobbied on behalf of anti-protest bills in 2017 and 2018. The bills ran the gamut from punishing face coverings at protests to increasing penalties for “economic disruption” and highway blockage to criminalizing civil protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” like oil pipelines.
Emboldened by the Trump administration, at least 31 states have considered 62 pieces of anti-protest legislation since November 2016, with at least seven enacted and 31 still pending. The full scope of police support for these bills is not yet known.
And they’re doing this lobbying largely out of the public eye. In one example, Bob Kroll, the president of the Minneapolis police union, told In These Times the union is having “ongoing meetings” with lawmakers, including the author of a failed bill to make blocking a highway punishable by a year in jail and a $3,000 fine. Asked about that union’s support, the ACLU’s legislative director in the state was taken aback, saying it was “the first I’ve heard” about police backing any iteration of the bill. (An interesting aside at the end of the story: Kroll, who harshly criticized Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis, admitted back in 2016 that he’s a member of a motorcycle group denounced by the Anti-Defamation League for tolerating white supremacy.)
While a review by the site found the results of these efforts have so far been mixed—of the anti-protest laws tracked across eight states, one was signed into law, two were vetoed, another four are pending while the rest were voted down or killed—it’s a troubling development in a broader clampdown on free speech and the ability to organize in public spaces. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to aggressively prosecute nearly 200 activists arrested while protesting the inauguration.