Oklahoma City, OK – The governor of Oklahoma has signed off on a bill that protects drivers who unintentionally run into rioters while trying to escape or avoid being attacked.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed off on House Bill 1647 on Wednesday, CNN reported.
The bill provides immunity to drivers in fear for their lives who accidentally crash into demonstrators while “fleeing from a riot,” according to The Oklahoman.
The law change also made obstructing a public roadway during a protest a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine, CNN reported.
The Oklahoma State Senate passed the measure 38-10 law week, according to the news outlet.
Representative Kevin West (R-Moore), who sponsored the bill along with Senator Rob Standridge (R-Norman), said the legislation provides “important protection for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation,” The Oklahoman reported.
“When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families or their property,” West added.
Standridge said the bill has nothing to do with peaceful protesting.
“You can protest all you want, I encourage that, but once you start throwing things at people’s cars, and trying to break their windows and pull them out of the car, it’s no longer a protest, that’s what you call a riot,” he told KFOR.
Stitt said the bill is a warning to those who participate in violent uprisings that they will not be allowed to hurt law-abiding citizens.
“We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law-abiding citizens’ safety will not be tolerated,” Stitt said when he signed after signing off of the bill, according to CNN. “I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community.”
The bill will go into effect on Nov. 1, according to The Oklahoman.
Protesters denounced the legislation, declaring it an assault on their Constitutional rights, The Oklahoman reported.
“They are targeting groups of protestors who are just wanting to use their freedom of speech, passing bills that will intimidate them in the hopes of keeping people from using their First Amendment rights, passing bills that decriminalize the murder of protestors, which is absolutely insane,” said Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition founder Adriana Laws.
Laws and approximately 35 other protesters marched through House Chambers inside the Oklahoma State Capitol on Wednesday and began yelling at lawmakers before they were eventually forced out, The Oklahoman reported.
At least two members of the group were escorted out of the State Capitol building by Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, The Oklahoman reported.
Critics claim HB 1674 will disproportionately harm people of color and said the legislation was created to drown out Black Lives Matter and demands for racial justice.
Shelley Free, who was among the protesters who stormed the Oklahoma House Chambers on Wednesday, said people might be inconvenienced when “activists” block streets, but that citizens don’t have the right to try to move past them or to crash into them, The Oklahoman reported.
“I find that to be inhumane and a direct attack on our freedoms to assemble and to speak truth to the powers of governance here,” Free declared.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Oklahoma said it is considering taking legal action in response to the bill, KFOR reported.
“They’re risking their lives. People will feel empowered to drive through protestors and that’s certainly scary,” ACLU Oklahoma Policy and Advocacy Director Nicole McAfee told the news outlet.
“The legislature will pull out every stop and trample on our rights and liberties to ensure that white Oklahomans in their vehicle, if they are inconvenienced by a protest, which is supposed to be an inconvenience, can drive through protestors rather than for a moment feel fearful,” McAfee argued.