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Oklahoma House passes bill giving immunity to drivers who hit rioters

A car drives through a crowd of protesters. (Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/Zuma Press/TNS)
March 12, 2021

Drivers in Oklahoma could be granted immunity if they injure or kill someone while fleeing a riot, according to a bill passed in the state’s House Wednesday.

Introduced by Republican state Rep. Kevin West, House Bill 1674 would allow rioters to be charged with misdemeanors if they interfere with traffic and endanger drivers. Drivers would also be protected from criminal or civil charges if they hit a rioter while attempting to escape a riot.

“Every person who shall knowingly and willfully obstruct the normal use of any public street, highway or road within this state by impeding, hindering or restraining motor vehicle traffic or passage thereon, by standing or approaching motor vehicles thereon, or by endangering the safe movement of motor vehicles or pedestrians travelling thereon shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor,” the legislation states.

The charge is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year, and/or a minimum fine of $100 but not exceeding $5,000. The individual would also be “liable for all damages to person or property.”

While discussing the bill, West referred to an incident in which an Oklahoma driver was surrounded by Black Lives Matter demonstrators in the middle of a roadway while his wife and small children were in the vehicle with him.

“The driver was severely chastised for trying to hurt the protesters and he even faced the possibility of criminal charges for his actions in attempting to erase the protesters,” West said, as The Courthouse News Service reported. “This measure would clarify a motorist’s rights in a similar situation going forward.”

Advocates of the bill said it targets violent protesters while supporting peaceful protests.

“I fully agree that peaceful protests are a right of the people, and I condone anyone who wants to protest peacefully, said state Rep. Kevin McDugle, co-author of the bill, according to The Hill. “Once anyone impedes on the freedoms of others, however, the protest is no longer peaceful.”

He continued, “This bill simply says, ‘please stay to the peaceful protests. Don’t block roads. Don’t impede on the freedoms of others.”

State House Democrats in Oklahoma condemned the legislation, saying it goes after protesters for fighting systemic racism.

“Maybe the way to prevent something like this from ever happening again is to make reforms on the broader systemic issue, said Democratic state Rep. Monroe Nichols. Nichols added that he dreads having to tell his 12 year old son that the Oklahoma House would allow fighters of systemic racism to be run over,” USA Today reported.