Talking Point: States are Criminalizing Protests

Claim:  A number of states have or are in the process of passing laws that criminalize protests.

Rank: DebatableIn response to some protests that have turned into riots, the lawmakers in at least 18 states have proposed legislation.  The list includes states such as Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Tennessee.  While these proposals have not become law, civil liberties advocates are reporting that they represent an attempt to criminalize protected free speech.

Some of these bills are designed to add additional requirements to legal protests.  Others have the potential to be more intrusive such as Arizona’s law to seize the property of those who participate or organize violent protests.  The following table shows some of the laws being considered at the time of this article’s writing.

Arizona  Adds rioting to the state’s racketeering statutes.  This would allow the state to seize property of those who organize and participate in protests where violence occurs even if the rioting groups are not part of the protests.
 South Dakota  Allows law enforcement to designate “safety zones” in areas where there are active protests.  Supporters of the bill say that the intention is for safety.  Opponents to the law claim that the law can be used to shut down protests by make it impossible to avoid breaching the zones.
 Tennessee  Eliminates civil liability for drivers who run into protesters who are blocking traffic.
 Minnesota  Authorizes cities to charge protesters for police services if the demonstrators are convicted of illegal assembly or public nuisance giving them the ability to sue the protesters.
 Washington  Classifies protests as a felony called “economic terrorism” if it resulted in economic disruption or endangers human life or property.
 Michigan  Makes it easier for courts to shut down protests and pickets and to penalize demonstrators for blocking entrances to businesses, private residences, or roadways.  Add fines for protesters who return to a protest after the court deems it illegal.
 Iowa  Makes it a felony to block traffic on highways during a protest.
 North Dakota  Clears drivers of any legal liability for running over protesters as long as the action is unintentional.
 Indiana  Allows for police to clear protesters using “any means necessary” if roads are being blocked.  Opponents claim that this law could allow for law enforcement to use brutal tactics against protesters.
 Virginia  Imposes jail time for protesters who remain at an unlawful assembly or riot after being ordered to leave.  This bill has been defeated.
 Colorado  Increases the penalties for tampering with oil and gas production equipment to be a felony.

These laws are in response to a growing number of protests that have ended in clashes with law enforcement and property damage.  Despite the timing of these bills,  they were not prompted by protests against president Donald Trump; they were proposed before the election. Civil liberties advocates warn against rushing legislation as it could backfire.  Many of them call efforts to curtail protests troubling and un-American.


As previously discussed, there are a number of states that are considering legislation that would further regulate protests.  Most of these laws are intended to address safety issues and riots.  On the other hand, some of these laws have the potential to be abused to effectively shut down peaceful protests.  One can make an argument for or against these laws and for that reason, this claim is debatable.

References and Further Reading:


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