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Disruptive protesters targeted in NC bill

Posted March 3

— Four Republican state lawmakers are calling for the creation of a felony offense for what they call "economic terrorism."

House Bill 249, which was filed Thursday, defines the term as committing a crime with the intent to intimidate people or influence public policy and that crime impedes the normal course of a business or a government agency, resulting in the loss of at least $1,000. Such crimes include trespassing or blocking streets.

Under the proposal, anyone found guilty of economic terrorism would face four months to more than two years in prison, could be sued for damages of at least $50,000 and could be held liable for the costs of police and other public safety personnel who respond to the disturbance.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said the legislation is meant to address violent protests that close streets and harm businesses. He cited protests in Charlotte after a fatal police shooting last September that became violent and left businesses damaged.

"I think it's the first core responsibility of government to protect the safety and security of citizens, and when you see that safety and security being impacted in a negative way, it's up to us to try to do something to correct that," Torbett said.

Critics of the bill say, however, that it's so broadly written that it could apply to events such as the "Moral Monday" protests at the Legislative Building, where hundreds of people have been charged with trespassing in recent years.

Sarah Gillooly, policy director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the legislation infringes on constitutional rights of assembly and free speech.

"This bill is part of an alarming trend we've seen in North Carolina and across the nation to put a chilling effect on people's First Amendment rights," Gillooly said.

At least eight other states have similar proposals under review, although none has become law yet.

In North Dakota, for example, where protestors camped out for months trying to stop construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, lawmakers are considering a bill that would impose a five-year prison sentence on protesters while protecting any driver who accidentally injures or kills a protestor blocking traffic on a roadway.

Torbett said his bill isn't aimed at peaceful events. Rather, he said, there's a rising level of violence at public protests.

"If it’s peaceful, we’re not after peaceful. We’re after illegal," he said. "If we can put something on the books that might just perhaps to keep that from escalating, then the citizens at large and the government they represent are safer."

Gillooly noted North Carolina already has laws on its books against vandalism, rioting and trespassing, so the new proposal isn't needed.

"There's a real difference between vandalizing a business and protesting in front of a business," she said. "Fundamentally, the Constitution protects our right. The U.S. Supreme Court has protected our right to be in the street and to criticize our government."

16 Comments

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  • Jimmy Jones Mar 5, 12:06 p.m.
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    Can't wait for you SJWs to get your day in court to "clear up" the law for you.

  • Jimmy Jones Mar 5, 12:04 p.m.
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    Amen

  • Jimmy Jones Mar 5, 12:03 p.m.
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    Fascism is a leftists thing.....protecting people and property from damages is a law and order thing. If you want to smash your windows and throw a hissy fit in front of your house.....go right ahead.
    You want to protest a business...go right ahead....just don't block others that want to go into the business and don't damage any property.....it's really simple. You can protest. You can't damage property or "attack" others that don't share your perceived "moral outrage".

  • Jimmy Jones Mar 5, 12:00 p.m.
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    No, you can still protest.....you just can't break the law while you're doing it. Blocking people from entering a business or damaging property of the business is not covered under your "First Amendment Rights."
    You can boycott....but that doesn't mean you get a free pass to sit at a business' doors and block other people from entering....boycotting means that YOU just refuse to buy from that business.

  • Linda Tally Mar 5, 7:27 a.m.
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    Go for it. Waste your effort and time in office on something guaranteed to be stopped dead by the courts and keep the "deplorables" thinking you're actually doing something constructive. Good move, guys. Yep.

  • William Sherman Mar 4, 8:43 p.m.
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    The law does not make criminals out of peaceful protestors--it insures their right to protest as long as they keep the peace. The law reinforces laws already on the books punishing inappropriate behavior during protests/marches but which we all know are never imposed. This law will insure that necessary punishment is meted out for destruction of private property, government property, arson, assault etc. If law enforcement had been enforcing the existing laws sufficiently, this new addition would not be needed.

  • John Archer Mar 4, 7:25 p.m.
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    Thank you, I did forget that one. And there are already laws to deal with people who incite that kind of violence. What this law does is make criminals out of peaceful protesters, such as the recent Women's March and the immigration march in Raleigh. Neither of those had any arrests, but they did block streets and businesses. THAT is what I have trouble with this bill about.

  • Jeff Freuler Mar 4, 4:50 p.m.
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    I guess you were asleep a few months ago when they were acting a fool in Charlotte. Enough said

  • William Sherman Mar 4, 4:27 p.m.
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    sure can--charlotte in 2016--check it out

  • John Archer Mar 4, 1:56 p.m.
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    Can anyone cite an instance in North Carolina where a protest has become violent, fires set, property damaged? Legal protests are covered under right to assemble. If there are so many people protesting that roads are blocked, business are affected, etc, then maybe the powers that be should be looking at WHY people are protesting. Most people enjoy the routine of their every day lives, and aren't bothered enough to go downtown and carry a sign on a rainy Saturday. So when they ARE bothered enough to do that, is it too much to ask that they not get arrested for voicing their concern? Try putting the shoe on the other foot. This bill will also affect conservatives when they feel they need to protest.

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