Pols Defend Bills to Shield Drivers Who Kill Protesters

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After the death of activist Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, state legislators who had previously pushed to shield drivers who killed protesters with a moving vehicle are standing by their efforts, arguing that their legislation would not have applied in last weekend’s attack, The Intercept reports. Before the killing on Saturday, bills had been proposed around the U.S., largely in the South and primarily in response to Black Lives Matter and Dakota Access Pipeline related protests. The bills targeted leftist demonstrators who have increasingly shut down traffic by blocking roads and highways to bring attention to their cause. Under the proposed laws, motorists who struck and killed such protesters would have special immunity in certain circumstances, as long as it wasn’t proved they acted deliberately. Heyer was struck by a car allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr., a supporter of white nationalist causes.

None of the proposed motorist immunity bills — debated in half a dozen states and backed by far-right personalities and law enforcement interests — has been enacted. Rather than backing away in light of the events in Charlottesville, legislators are doubling down. Texas state Rep. Pat Fallon wants to limit the liability of motorists responsible for hitting individuals who are “blocking traffic in a public right-of-way while participating in a protest or demonstration.” North Carolina’s version of the immunity bill passed the lower chamber of the legislature in April. It says a “person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way is immune from civil liability for the injury.” The definition of “due care” would be highly debatable. State Reps. Justin Burr and Chris Millis, said their bill would not apply in the context of Charlottesville.

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