Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed legislation Wednesday that will protect drivers who injure or kill demonstrators while attempting to escape a riot, in addition to increasing penalties for individuals who intentionally block roadways.
“We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law abiding citizens’ safety will not be tolerated. I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community,” Stitt said, according to CNN.
Introduced by Republican state Rep. Kevin West, H.B. 1674 makes willfully blocking traffic a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Motorists will also be protected from criminal or civil charges if they hit a rioter while attempting to escape, and that rioter is injured or killed.
The bill passed the Oklahoma House last month by a vote of 79-18 and passed the Senate 38-10 on April 14.
“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 traveling thereon shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor,” the legislation states.
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. “Once anyone impedes on the freedoms of others, however, the protest is no longer peaceful.”
A group of demonstrators briefly disrupted House proceedings Wednesday in protest of a number of bills awaiting the governor’s signature, including H.B. 1674, NBC 4 reported.
“There’s just so much going on in this session that’s wrong and it’s inherently hurtful to the people of Oklahoma and we’re not going to stand for it,” said Adriana Laws, the president and founder of the Collegiate Freedom and Justice Coalition.
“You cannot just run somebody over and it be okay because your justification is you felt you were threatened,” Laws continued. “I feel threatened everyday as a black woman in society.”
The law comes less than a day after a Minneapolis jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of all three charges in the death of George Floyd, who died while in police custody last year, sparking months of protests, riots, and calls for police reforms.