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Governor Stitt on Wednesday signed two bills into law criminalizing acts of peaceful protests across the state.
The bills, HB 1674 and HB 1643, have received extensive nationwide pushback from First Amendment rights groups in recent weeks. Some groups, including the ACLU of Oklahoma, have stated they plan to take legal action if the bills become law. Stitt’s decision to sign the bills could cost Oklahoma taxpayers millions, according to sources familiar with the pending lawsuits.
Bills seek to silence dissent
HB 1674, the controversial legislation dubbed the “hit and run” law, protects drivers who run over protestors from legal consequences. Republicans claim the law will only apply to violent protestors, but the language of the bill is especially vague. According to the bill, any driver who claims they felt threatened could avoid prosecution.
Similarly, HB 1643 makes it a crime to film police officers and post the images on social media without first removing any identifying information. Some legal experts argue the law would have made it a crime to post the video of George Floyd’s murder.
The Republican super-majority in the state legislature has not allowed any bills addressing the ongoing calls for criminal justice reform to be heard during the session.
Retaliation for Black Lives Matter protests
Many advocacy groups view the bills as an attack on protestors who called on elected leaders to address issues of systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd.
The ACLU of Oklahoma released a statement condemning the oppressive laws.
“The ACLU of Oklahoma has long fought to protect the First Amendment right to assemble and hold those in power accountable through protest. With the stroke of a pen, Governor Stitt has decided to stand on the wrong side of history and threaten one of the most fundamental rights of our democracy,” said Nicole McAfee, director of policy and advocacy. “Throughout the 58th Oklahoma Legislative Session, we have seen politicians at the Oklahoma Capitol push agendas that chill free speech and infringe on the rights of protesters. And we know this is just the beginning in a lengthy list of legislation aimed at communities who took to the streets to make their voices heard in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.”
McAfee also compared the response from law enforcement to armed, White Second Amendment activists and unarmed Black and Brown protesters, appearing to imply that the ACLU may take legal action.
Groups may take legal action
“Just this week at the legislature we witnessed an inequity in response, as white militants gathering were met with cordiality and protesters of color were met with near-physical confrontation and beefed-up law enforcement presence. People protesting police violence should not face more police violence. The ACLU of Oklahoma along with organizers on the ground are in a fight to end the systemic violence inflicted on our Black and Brown communities, and our government’s escalating attacks on protests against racism and police brutality should concern everyone. We are in serious conversations with partners on our next steps to protect Oklahomans’ right to free speech. The power of protest belongs with the people, and we will not tolerate these attempts to silence Oklahomans.”
Similarly to the Jim Crow era, advocates have pointed out how these bills will disproportionately silence dissent from communities of color, but legislators quickly passed it anyway.
“They told us they were going to make an example out of us,” said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher in an interview with TMZ. “That’s exactly what they’re trying to do.”