Written By: Anton Sawyer
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I'm not sure if it's because there's some overriding mental fear of the police losing their militarized weapons for use during "crowd control" or if it's something else, but it appears that there are a certain number of legislators and citizens who have decided to lend a helping hand ... by essentially making murder during a riot, legal.
During the hellscape that was 2020, we have seen the boundaries of what can be considered "constitutional" be pushed to the absolute limits. From Donald Trump's legal entanglements and his ability to dodge them with legal precedents set in centuries past, to the differences between what can be considered a "protest" under the First Amendment Freedom of Assembly clause. The right-wing has been convinced that any assembly they don't agree with must have some nefarious intent residing under its surface. The left-wing has had to try to pin down specific legal examples to show that their attempts at the disruption of peaceful protests are both ethically and lawfully dubious at best. This constant jostling from both sides as to the various legal and technical definitions of even the most basic of words has left an amazing fog of confusion to all. All of this theatre has been done in an attempt to try to justify any and every physical display of their concept of "revolution" to the world. The one thing that has become clear during the last year is that when it comes to rioting, the GOP intends it to end with deadly consequences.
Utah, a state that has been overwhelmingly red since 1964, is now considering legislation from State Rep. Jon Haskins (R) that would "make the obstruction of traffic during a riot a third-degree felony and, under certain circumstances, absolves motor vehicle operators from criminal liability for injuries and death caused as a result of fleeing from a riot." Called the "Roadway Obstruction Amendment," it would allow a motorist who is observing a riot and feeling trapped or frightened a legal defense if they were to hit people with their vehicle in an escape. What makes it even more frightening than what is at the surface, is when you look at how much conjecture is written into this legislation.
The basis of the amendment "eliminates criminal responsibility of a motor vehicle driver for injury and death caused while the motor vehicle driver is fleeing from a riot, if the motor vehicle driver is under a reasonable belief that fleeing is necessary to protect the motor vehicle driver from serious injury or death." With phrases such as "causing public alarm," and "An individual who refuses to comply with a lawful order to withdraw given immediately before, during, or immediately following a violation of Subsection (1) is guilty of riot," allows for too much interpretation when it comes to what someone feels and hears.
Technically speaking, you leave your house and see that there is a protest march going on. You observe a dozen people down the street 60 feet away fighting each other. You are sure you heard one of the police nearby give them a warning. You are afraid. You feel the need to flee using your car parked on the street ... you see where this could go.
In the above scenario, though the fighting with more than two people is happening, it's the internal fear of what's progressing with the skirmish, combined with a potential lack of understanding to any warnings given, that will allow people to let their emotions come to the surface and react, potentially without thinking, under the new law.
Some of you may think I am a prophet of doom that is heavily catastrophizing, that this is a local issue in Utah and it won't impact you. As of right now, you are correct. But given the trajectory of how republicans want to frame those who "defend their land and family" during these times, it's something that could become a nation-wide party stance. This sentiment was exemplified earlier in 2020 with Mark and Patricia McCloskey.
On June 28th, 2020 a Black Lives Matter protest was set up in the city of St. Louis. As demonstrators passed through the McClockey's yard via an already damaged fence and other unclear property delineations, the McCloskey's came out with husband Mark brandishing an AR-15 rifle, while wife Patricia had her finger on the trigger of a semi-automatic handgun. All of this was accompanied by the homeowners yelling at everyone in the near vicinity. There was no rioting, there were no Molotov cocktails flying through the air. But, Mr. McCloskey was utterly terrified. “I really thought it was storming the Bastille" he explained, "that we would be dead, and the house would be burned, and there was nothing we could do about it. It was a huge and frightening crowd." The local government was not happy with the situation at all. Outside of the possibility of trespass by the protestors, which was ultimately dropped after investigations by local authorities, the entire gathering was seen as a peaceful protest overall.
The GOP has positioned itself where they say they support the Freedom to Assemble, but in reality, will do whatever they feel is necessary to guard their family and their homes from what they deem to be out of control violence and looters. In St. Louis, there was no violence. There were no looters. But to the right, the McCloskey's were heroes. Because of the outpouring of love by the conservative base for Mr. and Mrs. McCloskey's actions, they were asked to speak at the 2020 Republican National Convention. Given the same scenario above, if two or more people were engaged in violent activity, the "Roadway Obstruction Amendment" defense could very well be used if the McCloskey's tried to flee in their car and hit someone.
I don't want to be the person who uses hyperbole and over the top analogies in an attempt to scare people into agreeing with my point of view. But with this situation, it's a little different because the last time someone's life was taken based on fear and the perceived feelings of someone else, a young man named Trayvon Martin who was murdered by George Zimmerman using the "stand your ground" law as a defense.
You can say that I am nothing more than Chicken Little running around petrified that the sky is falling. But if this law passes and gains a strong footing within the party, it could spread from a state-level policy to a federal one. And if the Republican party is willing to give the hero treatment to individuals who feloniously threatened peaceful protestors, what do you think they would do with someone who took a few of them out legally?
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