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Across The Country, Bills Immunize Drivers Who Injure Protesters

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Across The Country, Bills Immunize Drivers Who Injure Protesters

A motor officer writes a traffic ticket for a motorist caught speeding

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

With all eyes on the tragedies of Charlottesville, many say this is not the America they recognize. However, legalized violence is nothing new, chiefly in the form of police brutality and the immunity offered to those who retaliate against protesters. Though lawmakers are objecting to the car-plowing incident in Virginia that killed activist Heather Heyer, Republican representatives across the country have introduced a slew of bills granting immunity to drivers who injure protesters, exhibiting lawmakers’ disregard for freedom of speech and freedom to organize.

1. North Carolina votes to protect drivers who collide with protesters.

In April 2017, the North Carolina House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that would not hold drivers who collided with protesters liable as long as they “exercise due care.” After chaotic protests blocked interstate roadways in response to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by Charlotte police, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Justin Burr, said, “This bill does not allow for the driver of a vehicle to target protesters intentionally… It does protect individuals who are rightfully trying to drive down the road.”

Though GOP lawmakers insist otherwise, Democratic Rep. Mickey Michaux said the law is racially motivated, given that people of color demonstrate most. “It would give some folks the idea” to intentionally run over minorities, he says. “Who demonstrates more than people of color?”

2. Texas pinpoints demonstrators in bill immunizing drivers.

Like North Carolina lawmakers, Rep. Pat Fallon of Texas directly pinpointedprotesters in his bill, stating that drivers who injure another person while “exercising due care” are not liable if the person injured is “participating in a protest or demonstration.” This contrasts with previously peaceful relations between demonstrators and Dallas police, who worked together in blocking off streets and clearing paths, even during rush-hour protests. This symbiotic relationship came to a halt during a deadly ambush of Dallas police during anti-police brutality protests in 2016. (This legislation comes from the same state that proposed the all-but-dead “bathroom bills” that restricted transgender people’s access to public and school bathrooms.)

3. Motorcyclist directly threatens Florida protesters; lawmakers seek to protect him.

When a “visibly angry” motorcyclist began threatening and knocking down protesters to evade a demonstration blockade, lawmakers continued the trend of protecting those who “exercise due care,” as long as the injury was unintentional. But this proposal made no clear plan to define what was intentional versus accidental, implying that most collisions would be inadvertent.

“Driving is a privilege. Speech is a right,” said Paul Ortiz, a UF history professor who was participating in the march. “Your right as a driver is not protected by the U.S. Constitution. Your First Amendment right to speech is.”

4. Nashville seeks to protect murderer.

When several demonstrators ended up on the hood of an SUV in Nashville protests of the immigration ban, lawmakers proposed a similar bill. The legislation placed blame on the victims who were pushed nearly 100 feet to a gas station, rather than the driver.

5. North Dakota proposes bill to restrict rights and safety of pipeline demonstrators.

The bill, proposed in early January, was written in response to protests at Standing Rock reservation in Canon Ball, North Dakota. “If you stay off the roadway, this would never be an issue,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Keith Kempenich. “Those motorists are going about the lawful, legal exercise of their right to drive down the road. … Those people didn’t ask to be in this.” According to Kempenich, the protesters “made a conscious decision to put themselves in harm’s way.” Even before the bill was proposed, Dakota Access Pipeline protesters were facing excessive force from police in the form of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Jennie Neufeld is a junior writing fellow at AlterNet. She has previously worked for the Observer, the Wild and Nylon Magazine. Follow her on twitter @jennieneufeld.



  1. Cynthia Ratzke August 16, 2017

    Not certain, but I don’t think these state laws shield you from FEDERAL law/HATE CRIMES. Not only does this ENCOURGE violence, it gives the perpetrator a false sense of legal entitlement. Victims will file civil lawsuits and taxpayers foot the administrative costs, not to mention any monetary rewards imposed by the courts. It may SEEM like a good idea to these legislators but not wise to legislate FROM YOUR ASS!

  2. bojimbo26 August 16, 2017

    Carry a Magnum 45 and shoot the engine block .

  3. yabbed August 17, 2017

    So Republican legislators are giving people the right to run them over for passing hate supporting legislation?

  4. Dapper Dan August 17, 2017

    It’s nice to know where I can be free to mow down demonstrations by Neo Nazis and the Klan. Granted if I’m in a rental I may not get my damage deposit back. It’s a pain to remove blood from those hate groups

  5. Richard Prescott August 17, 2017

    Yeah, so their intent was to reduce the numbers of liberals who protest bad things. So now I guess they may just have to review the actual effect if people started plowing through KKK and Nazi rallies.

  6. johninPCFL August 17, 2017

    The protesters have the right of self-defense, and can use second amendment solutions, too.

  7. Aaron_of_Portsmouth August 17, 2017

    A madness has gripped the collective minds of the GOP. This collection of misfits is doing its level best to introduce a totalitarian infrastructure where those who dare to resist abusive behavior will have to deal with a mob entity on a leash, ready to be set free on command at the wish of GOP legislators.


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