Jefferson City, MO – Missouri lawmakers are considering a bill that would crack down on violent protests and riots, to include allowing drivers and private property owners to use deadly force against demonstrators in some situations.
Under Missouri Senate Bill 66, filed Monday by Republican Senator Rick Brattin, property owners and renters would be permitted to use deadly force “against a person who is participating in an unlawful assembly” in the event the demonstrator “unlawfully enters or attempts to enter private property.”
Similarly, motorists would “not be held liable” for injuring rioters who are blocking traffic, provided the driver “was exercising due care and was not grossly negligent,” according to the bill.
Jurisdictions that opt to defund police “by more than 12% on relation to other budget items in the proposed budget,” would be ineligible for receiving state funds under the measure, and any government employee convicted of participating in an unlawful assembly would be stripped of employment benefits.
The bill would pull back tort liability immunity protection for any public entity found to be “grossly negligent in protecting persons or property from an unlawful assembly.”
Suspects convicted of rioting, conspiring to riot, institutional vandalism, unlawful traffic interference or second- or third-degree assault resulting in an on-duty law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical provider being assaulted would be ineligible for bail or continuation of bail, and would also be ineligible for probation or parole.
Protesters who cause “emotional distress to another person while participating in an unlawful assembly” would be subject to a second-degree harassment charge under the proposed legislation, and blocking traffic would constitute a felony offense.
The bill would upgrade rioting that results in more than $750 in property damage to a Class C felony offense.
It would also establish a new Class E felony statute for conspiring with others to create an unlawful assembly or a riot.
Vandalizing a public monument or any other structure on public party would qualify as a Class B felony under the bill.
“To think that your right to protest enables you the right to stop traffic and literally stop people’s ability to move about freely in this nation is a gross misunderstanding of our constitutional rights,” Brattin said during a hearing on the proposed legislation on Monday, according to the Associated Press.
“People can’t even go have a nice meal without being harassed, run out,” the senator added. “I wanted to ensure that people are able to go and enjoy their freedoms and liberties just like anyone else should be able to.”
Missouri civil rights leader Reverend Darryl Gray argued that the methods Brattin is seeking to criminalize “are the same methods that helped to destroy Jim Crow laws, segregation, and destroyed centuries of hatred and bigotry,” the Associated Press reported.
Gray denounced the bill, saying it would “vilify non-violent protesters.”
He declared the legislation to be a deliberate attack on freedom of speech, assembly and democracy as a whole, KMBC reported.
“I’m a product of the Civil Rights Movement,” Gray said during the Senate hearing. “Just last week, we honored the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy. There are those who didn’t agree with many of his methods of protest, but it was those same methods that changed this country for the better.”
He further argued that property owners shouldn’t have the right to protect their land and belongings.
“For God sake, authorizing the use of deadly force by non-law enforcement people is creating a recipe for disaster by giving permission to commit bodily harm or even taking a life,” he said, according to KMBC. “We believe that human life is more sacred than property.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri is pushing voters to contact their state senators to demand they shut the bill down.
“No driver should be able to hit a protester and get away with it. Period. Call your senator and ask that they vote NO on SB66,” the group tweeted Monday.