Oklahoma passes bill to grant immunity to drivers who hit rioters engaging in violence

Nicole Silverio, DCNF

The Oklahoma House passed a bill Wednesday that extends punishments for rioters and grants immunity to drivers who injure or kill someone while fleeing a riot, USA Today reported.

House Bill 1674, introduced by Republican state Rep. Kevin West, would allow prosecutors to charge rioters with a misdemeanor for interfering with traffic and endangering drivers. If passed, motor vehicle operators would not face criminal or civil charges for hitting a rioter if they were fleeing for safety or exercised “due care” at the time of the injury or death.

The bill defines a rioter as anyone committing violence or robbery during the protest, according to the Courthouse News Service. Rioters can face a criminal charge and imprisonment.

“If any murder, maiming, robbery, rape or arson was committed in the course of such a riot, such person is punishable in the same manner as a principal in such crime,” the bill text says. “Such person shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment.”

West described an incident where Black Lives Matter protesters surrounded an Oklahoma driver which caused the driver to harm the protesters.

“The driver was severely chastised for trying to hurt the protesters and he even faced the possibility of criminal charges for his actions in attempting to erase the protesters,” West said, according to the Courthouse News Service. “This measure would clarify a motorist’s rights in a similar situation going forward.”

Supporters of the bill said that the legislation only targets protesters participating in violence but that peaceful protests are fully supported.

“I fully agree that peaceful protests are a right of the people, and I condone anyone who wants to protest peacefully, said state Rep. Kevin McDugle, co-author of the bill, according to The Hill. “Once anyone impedes on the freedoms of others, however, the protest is no longer peaceful.”

He added, “This bill simply says, ‘please stay to the peaceful protests. Don’t block roads. Don’t impede on the freedoms of others.”

Oklahoma House Democrats criticized the bill saying it targets protesters for fighting systemic racism and refuses to dig into the “root causes” of the protests.

“Maybe the way to prevent something like this from ever happening again is to make reforms on the broader systemic issue, said Democratic state Rep. Monroe Nichols. Nichols added that he dreads having to tell his 12 year old son that the Oklahoma House would allow fighters of systemic racism to be run over,” USA Todayreported.

The bill says it would take effect on Nov. 1, 2021 if passed.

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