The Republican-dominated Arizona Senate wants to empower the police to arrest peaceful protesters and seize their assets
One Arizona Republican state senator has introduced legislation (SB1142) that could give the police the authority to arrest anyone involved in a peaceful demonstration.
Claiming people are being paid to riot, Republican state senators voted Wednesday to give police new power to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration that may turn bad – even before anything actually happened.
SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. It defines rioting as:
“A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which either disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person.”
By including rioting under the racketeering laws, it also enables the police to arrest those who attended the event, even if they themselves did not commit any crime.
But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association – and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated.
And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side.
Farley told the Associated Press:
“This is a total perversion of the RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] process, the racketeering process, and I see major Constitutional issues down the line . . . I don’t think this is going to do anything but get us into more lawsuits.”
Critics, including the state’s Democrats, say the legislation is intended to silence the massive protest movement forming on the left.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said, that everything that constitutes rioting already is a crime, ranging from assault to criminal damage, and those responsible can be individually prosecuted. He said the purpose of this bill appears to be designed to chill the First Amendment rights of people to decide to demonstrate in the first place for fear something could wrong.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said:
“When people want to express themselves as a group during a time of turmoil, during a time of controversy, during a time of high emotions, that’s exactly when people gather as a community . . . Sometimes they yell, sometimes they scream, sometimes they do go too far.”
He said he believes the law is redundant because damaging property is already criminalized under current laws.
Democratic senators expressed that if SB 1142 is made law, it will be used to find new ways to crack down on peaceful protesters by creating pretenses to connect them to troublemakers. The Republicans defending the law are turning to the conspiracy that all the violence is planned and paid for by outsiders as justification.
Sen. John Kavangh, R-Fountain Hills, said the law change was necessary because the protests were professionally funded – a rumor President Donald Trump has cited himself.
Stop a protest before it has a chance to start
Sen. Kavanagh said that chilling effect is aimed at a very specific group of protesters.
“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” he said.
“A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists,” Kavanagh continued. “But this stuff is all planned.”
There’s something else: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest those who are planning events. And Kavanagh, a former police officer, said if there are organized groups, “I should certainly hope that our law enforcement people have some undercover people there.”
By including protesters under racketeering laws, the police would be empowered to arrest organizers in the planning stages of an event.
“Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts?” Kavanagh asked colleagues during debate. “Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?”
Double edge sword
Sen. Farley, however, said the legislation does far more than simply going after those who might incite people to riot, something which actually already is a crime. And he warned Republicans that such a broad law could end up being used against some of their allies.
For example, he said, a “Tea Party” group wanting to protest a property tax hike might get permits, publicize the event and have a peaceful demonstration.
“And one person, possibly from the other side, starts breaking the windows of a car,” Farley said.
“And all of a sudden the organizers of that march, the local Tea Party, are going to be under indictment from the county attorney in the county that raised those property taxes,” he said. “That will have a chilling effect on anybody, right or left, who wants to protest something the government has done.”
Aimed at minorities?
Will Gaona, policy director for the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union Pointed out on Twitter: Law enforcement unions are supporters of the legislation and are no doubt helping push it along. It will certainly make it easier for police to justify practices where they simply shut down and detain protesters without much consideration over who is actually engaging in destructive behavior.
Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, had her own concerns.
“I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard,” she said.
The bill passed on a party live vote in the Senate, 17-13, and is heading over to the House.
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