Our nation was founded out of protest and civil disobedience. Our Founding Fathers considered our right to assemble and express our opinions so important that they decided to protect it in the form of the First Amendment. According to human rights investigators with the United Nations, this right that so many Americans hold dear may be under attack.
In light of an increasing number of public protests focused on issues ranging from police activities to the environment, at least 19 states are seeking to criminalize demonstrations or stiffen penalties for protest activities. A statement from United Nations experts in the field of public protests calls the trend “alarming and undemocratic” and warns that these attempts to suppress activism are a violation of human rights laws and could jeopardize free speech.
Among the laws being considered are a North Dakota measure that would allow drivers to run over protestors as long as it is accidental. Missouri lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it illegal to wear a hoodie or anything that could be considered a disguise to a protest. Virginia legislators are considering a measure that would punish those who continue to assemble after being told to disperse with a $2,500 fine and a year in jail. Likewise, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota all have proposed laws that would increase penalties for blocking traffic during a protest.
Although supporters of the proposed laws say that they are necessary to preserve public order and safety, independent experts from the United Nations say that an individual’s right to peacefully demonstrate should not be curtailed because of another person’s decision to commit violence.