Bill to ban posting viral images of police with “intent to threaten” still active

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National Parents Union

What legislators are framing as a way to protect police from being doxxed is leaving advocates concerned that it’ll have a chilling effect on filming police misconduct.

Oklahoma legislators debated on and passed a substitute for one of three bills with similar language that would charge a misdemeanor to people who post personally identifiable information of a police officer with malicious intent. That includes any realistic personal likeness, such as photographs or viral videos.

The three bills with similar language include Senate Bill 6, House Bill 2273 and House Bill 1643. The Black Wall Street Times previously reported on the first two.

HB 1643

Seen as a win for police accountability advocates, legislators substituted SB 6 in the House Public Safety Committee on Tuesday with new language for a different issue. Furthermore, HB 2273 has been stalled in the House for weeks. But the third bill, HB 1643, has largely flown under the radar. It’s also closest to becoming law.

“Even if SB 6 isn’t a worry on this front, HB 1643 is still alive and moving,” said ACLU Oklahoma Director of Policy and Advocacy Nicole McAfee. “While it’s not identical language, it presents a lot of similar issues.”

House Bill 1643 reads:

“Whoever, with the intent to threaten, intimidate or harass, or facilitate another to threaten, intimidate or harass, uses an electronic communication device to knowingly publish, post or otherwise make publicly available personally identifiable information of a peace officer or public official, and as a result places that peace officer or public official in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not to exceed six (6) months, or by a fine not to exceed One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment. Upon conviction for a second or subsequent violation, the person shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not to exceed one (1) year, or by a fine not to exceed Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00), or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

Bill passed the House floor overwhelmingly

In addition to reviving the language from SB 6 and HB 2273, HB 1643 also shields peace officers’ personal information even from elected officials in certain circumstances. It lacks explicit language including the words “photograph or video.” But it includes “any other information that is linked or linkable to an individual.”

And while journalists and advocates focused on the more visible bills making their way through the legislature, HB 1643 has been quietly sailing through unchallenged. The bill passed 82 -17 on March 9 on the House floor. It passed a Senate committee on March 25, which now makes it eligible for a full Senate floor vote.

The Black Wall Street Times reached out to the Republican author of HB 1643, Oklahoma state Representative Justin Humphrey. In a phone interview, he said the motivation for the bill came from the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Black Lives Matter protests inspire police anti-doxxing bill

“What happened is this Summer, with all the chaos going on, I think as law enforcement you expect some danger. But what you don’t expect is people to purposefully endanger your family, your spouse, and your children. So that’s what was being done here,” Rep. Humphrey said.

Joining a common trend among Republican legislators, he drew concerns from the 93 percent peaceful Black Lives Matter protest while not mentioning the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which caused the deaths of multiple officers.

“The key to the language in these bills is intention. If you put something out on Facebook and your intention is not to do harm, not to cause problems, then that’s not what we’re looking for,” Humphrey said. He explained that doxxing of police officers, when someone posts someone’s address in order to invite violence, was what the bill is meant to address.

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Bill doesn’t define intent

Notably, the bill’s text includes definitions for “peace officer” “electronic communication” and “personally identifiable information.” Nowhere in the text, however, does it define “intent.”

Responding to concerns from the ACLU that the bill is too vague and could criminalize activists holding police officers accountable, Rep. Humphrey said “I’m not too concerned about that. I think the ACLU is exaggerating a little bit because they understand those processes better than I do.”

Humphrey defended the language of the bill, explaining that the legal system has checks and balances to ensure people aren’t wrongfully charged. He added that district attorneys know the law and know how to properly use their discretion to apply it fairly. 

The bill has room for error

Yet, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater’s decision to place terrorism charges on unarmed Black and brown people protesting the public police lynching of George Floyd last Summer have many in the community calling for his resignation. Communities of color don’t see his use of discretion in that instance as proper or fair. 

Not only that, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunsweiler outraged Tulsans when he chose not to charge the driver of a trailer who drove through a crowd of protesters last Summer, causing one man to fall off the highway, paralyzed.

Ultimately, Rep. Humphrey admitted that in the legal system, there’s room for error.

Communities of color don’t always trust police to use discretion properly

“We all know there are times when those steps are not always 100 percent. So I can’t say that any charge would always be 100 percent.” But he said he’s confident Oklahoma’s police officers, prosecutors and judges will apply the law fairly.

police

Oklahoma state Republican Representative Justin Humphrey. / Okhouse.gov

It isn’t a stretch to imagine a scenario in which an officer accused of misconduct attempts to defend or hide their actions by claiming the viral videos that captured it amounted to harassment and a threat against their livelihood. It’s unclear how the legislators can assure communities that this law can’t be hijacked in a similar manner.

Moreover, the mere fact that legislators included “photograph or any personal likeness” in similar bills could result in police officers making their own assumptions about when bystanders can film them. It doesn’t take long to find cases of police officers already stopping people from filming their actions on duty, even when the bystander is clearly not interfering.

Bill shuffle confuses bill watchers

In fact, some wonder whether efforts to confuse residents with multiple bills of the same language are intentional.

“It’s not uncommon for them to do that with priority legislation, to ensure if one gets caught up in process or gets compromised away from the original goal, they have another,” Nicole McAfee of the ACLU said.

The Black Wall Street Times has previously reported that the American Civil Liberties Union came out strongly against the bill, which oddly combines understandable privacy concerns such as not publishing social security numbers with details of an officer that have long been publicly accessible: name, place of work, and a photo or personal likeness. 

Advocacy groups, most Democratic legislators oppose bill

Groups such as Oklahoma Bill Watch and Indivisible Oklahoma have also raised concerns, not to mention the Democratic state Reps. and state Senators who’ve spoken out and voted against SB 6, HB 2273, and HB 1643.

It remains unclear how the author of the bill expects police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, or judges to be perfectly clear on the distinction when members of his own legislative body view the bill as too ambiguous.

“They have to show willful intent. That becomes a burden on those officers to prove as well as on the D.A. to file charges and a burden on the courts,” Rep. Humphrey said.

Many see bill as too vague, but legislators might pass it anyway

He failed to mention the burden that could be placed on concerned citizens broadcasting police misconduct who could potentially be charged and forced to go through the legal process, even if the case eventually gets thrown out.

It remains unclear how the author of the bill expects police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, or judges to be perfectly clear on the distinction when members of his own legislative body view the bill as too ambiguous.

Oklahoma residents concerned about this bill won’t be able to give a sigh of relief until after May 28, the final day of the legislative session. But if the recent floor vote is any indicator, the legislature has every intention of making it the law of the land.

To read our previous report, click: here

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1 comment

gregbreakpointgmailcom April 7, 2021 - 6:50 pm

“Just trust us to apply the law fairly” When they NEVER have “fairly” applied any law in Oklahoma, one of the most racist states in America, when looking at the application of law. And the whole point of filming police abuse is to stop it. Abuse went unchecked when there was no cell cameras and now brutality has been at least exposed. So Oklahoma makes it a crime to show any identifiable image of a law enforcement office brutalizing a child or person of color. What a perfect example of racism by the Color of Law. Read the book.

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