Laws Protecting Drivers Who Hit Protesters Are On The Rise, Thanks To The GOP
On Saturday, during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a 20-year-old man named James Fields reportedly drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters. The attack resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuries to 19 others. Following Saturday's events, the fact that Republicans are advocating to protect drivers who hit protesters in at least six states looks even worse than it normally would.
In North Dakota, Republican lawmakers attempted to pass House Bill No. 1203, which would have declared drivers who "negligently" or "unintentionally" caused the deaths or injuries of people "obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway" to be "not guilty" of any offense. The bill was voted down in February.
Tennessee legislators introduced a similar measure to protect motorists in the event that he hit protesters who may be blocking traffic. It was voted down in March.
Republicans in Rhode Island, Texas, and Florida have introduced similar bills as well. While Florida's legislators failed to get the sufficient amount of votes in the state senate to pass their proposal, the Rhode Island bill is pending "further study" and the Texas bill was forwarded to a committee.
As pointed out by The Outline, the rising influence and prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests have spurred an uptick in the number of bills meant to shield individuals who "unintentionally" harm protesters. This has been paired with the rise of laws made to criminalize protesting, such as House Bill No. 825, which sought to make shutting down highways a crime with a new felony called “unlawful traffic interference.” Lawmakers in Oregon and Virginia have similarly introduced bills meant to target individuals accused of either "rioting" or refusing to disperse from a "riot."
Fields has been arrested and is under investigation. He was photographed standing among a crowd of Vanguard America members, a white nationalist organization. He currently faces one charge for second-degree murder, three charges for malicious wounding, and one charge for leaving the scene.
General Attorney Jeff Sessions condemned the attack in a statement on Saturday night. "The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice," he said. "When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated. Justice will prevail."
Heather Heyer's father, Mark Heyer, has turned to his faith for guidance on how to respond to Fields as well as other white supremacists. "People need to stop hating, and they need to forgive each other. And I include myself in that, in forgiving the guy that did this," he said in an interview with Florida Today. "He doesn't know no better. You know, I just think of what the Lord said on the cross. Lord forgive him, they don't know what they're doing."