'A tactic to silence our voices': GOP pushes new bills cracking down on civil rights protesters
Black Lives Matter protester. (AFP)

On Wednesday, The New York Times profiled how Republicans in state legislatures around the country, with the help of like-minded governors, are advancing legislation to criminalize protests in response to the Black Lives Matter protests against the murder of George Floyd and other high-profile incidents of police brutality.

"G.O.P. lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session — more than twice as many proposals as in any other year, according to Elly Page, a senior legal adviser at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks legislation limiting the right to protest," reported Reid Epstein and Patricia Mazzei.

"Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed bills granting immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters in public streets," said the report. "A Republican proposal in Indiana would bar anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment, including elected office. A Minnesota bill would prohibit those convicted of unlawful protesting from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits or housing assistance. And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed sweeping legislation this week that toughened existing laws governing public disorder and created a harsh new level of infractions — a bill he's called 'the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro-law-enforcement piece of legislation in the country.'"

Under the Florida law, any gathering of three or more protesters could lead to riot charges against any one of them if any violence occurs, with aggravated penalties for 25 or more protesters — even those who did not behave violently. Thanks to the GOP's dismantling of a voter-approved re-enfranchisement initiative, those people could lose their right to vote in some circumstances. "It's a tactic to silence our voices," said Florida Rising's Moné Holder.

As the report notes, nearly all the George Floyd protests in Florida were peaceful. Holder added that she was concerned that the legislation may empower police confrontations with peaceful demonstrators marking the verdict convicting former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin of Floyd's murder.

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