hit and run law naacp
Members of the Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP speak to reporters about a federal lawsuit challenging the Oklahoma bill. (KOCO 5) News.
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An Oklahoma City judge has ruled in favor of shielding Oklahoma protestors from a bill that gives legal protections to drivers who hit protesters. U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron granted a preliminary injunction against House Bill 1674 at the behest of the Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP.

The bill is under legal consideration for being “constitutionally vague.” On top of shielding drivers who hit protesters from facing prosecution, it creates financial and criminal penalties for protestors who block roadways. The bill also threatens high fines for organizations that support protests deemed illegal.

With the initial passage of House Bill 1674, protestors who obstruct roadways would have received a $5000 fine, a misdemeanor charge, and jail time up to a year. Organizations who support protests or protestors could be fined up to $50,000.  The latest injunction comes after a nearly successful attempt by protesters to organize a citizen petition against the anti-protest bill.

joshua harris-till hit and run naacp
Joshua Harris-Till, surrounded by community leaders, as he announces a veto referendum effort to repeal HB 1674. (Sarah Gray)

NAACP prevails against anti-protest bill

The initial piece of legislation was widely panned as a reaction to the 2020 Black Lives Matter rallies that took place across the state following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — as well as other innocent Black men and women killed by police brutality and violence. 

The Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP successfully claimed that the law was unconstitutionally vague because it “fails to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes.” The local chapter of the national organization also noted that the bill lacks standards and cannot be equitably enforced. 

Judge Cauthron agreed, confirming that the language of the bill lacked specifics, particularly with regard to the phrase “with other persons who are found” as it relates to organizations supporting protests and protestors. In her opinion, Judge Cauthron noted, “If the only reach of HB 1674 was an organization which conspires with others to riot, this language is superfluous.”

Judge Cauthron continued, “At this stage, the Court finds that the organizational liability provision of HB 1674 is unconstitutionally vague,” thus ruling an injunction. She also mentioned the effect the law has on legally-protected protests, confirming “the challenged provision will have a chilling effect on Plaintiff’s protected speech activities.”

Meanwhile, the judge cautioned against taking the injunction as a final ruling on the matter. She ended the ruling with, “Based on the preliminary record before it, the court finds the effective date of HB 1674 should be delayed pending development of a full record.”

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...