Chilling peaceful protest: from Charlottesville to your own backyard

By Emily Walsh, Human Rights Defender campaigner

Since Saturday, when Heather Heyer died after a man drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protestors, I’ve asked people around me if they feel less safe going to protests now. Many have answered, “yes”.

Are people actually now more likely to be hit by a car while protesting? Not necessarily. But that is the danger of the “chilling effect”; an environment of heightened fear that can influence your decision-making, consciously or unconsciously.

And there have been efforts to “chill” your decision to take to the streets for months, right in your own backyard.

Florida, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina have all proposed bills that would remove punishments for drivers who hit — and even kill — protesters in the street.

Don’t live in these states? Here’s why you should still care.

We first saw this type of bill introduced in North Dakota in January, but laws modeled after it were then introduced in five other states.

When it comes to anti-protest laws, we’ve witnessed a domino effect: if the bill is successful in North Carolina, it is much more likely that this type of bill will become law elsewhere — perhaps even your state.

You have a say, and now is a critical time to speak up.

On March 13, innocuous-sounding “House Bill 330” was filed in North Carolina. Five months later, this bill has made its way quietly through the State House and into the Senate.

How could a bill that protects drivers who hit people protesting in the street* have made it this far?

HB 330 is a fear tactic at its core; a cleverly-disguised attempt to make people too afraid to go out and exercise their right to peaceful protest.

By contributing to an environment of heightened fear, these bills effectively aim to discourage you and the people you love from taking to the street to defend human rights.

After August 12, North Carolina lawmakers spoke up in renewed opposition:

But is it enough to simply let this bill wither away in committee? State Rep. Graig Meyer doesn’t think so:

We agree.

If the bill dies from inaction alone, lawmakers will be able to resurrect it in early 2018. And if public outrage has waned by that time, it will be much easier for lawmakers to pass the bill once and for all.

One-time condemnation is a start, but that alone will not stop these bills from becoming law.

Unless lawmakers publically declare that they will never support bills like HB 330, we will have to keep fighting this fight.

By demonstrating enough outrage and concern, we can make future efforts to move this bill forward too politically toxic to even consider.

Right now, you can take the following actions:

Live in North Carolina?

2. Dial 877–229–3237. Someone from Amnesty will tell you what to say, and then you will be connected with your state senator’s office!

3. Tweet at your state senator voicing your opposition to HB 330!

4. Share this post with family, friends and coworkers in your state, and ask that they take action with you.

Live in another state?

2. Be on the lookout for similar bills in your state

3. Proactively write to your state legislators urging them to oppose any future attempts to pass bills such as HB 330 in your state. Let us know if you write!

Peaceful protest is one of our best safeguards against hate and bigotry. Join us in defending your rights — together, we cannot be silenced.

*So long as the driver exercises “due care” and is not committing a “willful and wanton” act. But the short bill contains no specifics on these qualifications, leaving room dangerously open for legal interpretation.

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