States are Criminalizing Protest, Warns BLM Activist

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In the wake of unrest following George Floyd’s murder, a growing number of states are introducing laws to hold protesters criminally and civilly responsible for property damage that occurs during protests that deprive Black people of their First Amendment right to free speech and assembly by imputing criminality to them, warns Jilisa R. Milton, an activist with Black Lives Matter (BLM) in Birmingham, AL. When Black people speak out, however, they are met with aggressive resistance through the perpetuation of the racially targeted tropes about Black people being criminal, in need of supervision, violent, and deserving of harsh punishment that they are insisting on eliminating, Milton wrote in an Op-Ed for Bloomberg News.

By the end of June 2020, at least 11,000 people had been arrested in George Floyd-related protests, and by November 2020, at least 25 people had died. State legislatures proposed bills that include harsh charges for people who allegedly engaged in petty crimes during protests, and even proposed the elimination of civil and criminal liability for those who harm or kill protesters. Rather than respond to recent demands for change in the justice system or policy changes from BLM and other groups, at least 36 anti-protest laws have been enacted, and at least 50 are still pending. Many newly proposed anti-protest bills pose strict consequences for even being proximate to areas where property crime occurred during race-related protests.

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