A lawmaker in Alabama proposed legislation that would impose harsher penalties for anyone who participates in a riot, or protests that turn violent or destructive.. 

On Wednesday, Republican Representative Allen Treadaway, who is also a retired Birmingham assistant police chief, disclosed that he drafted the legislation after protests took place last summer in Birmingham over the death of George Floyd, who died on May 25, 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Some peaceful protests in Birmingham turned violent and caused damage to numerous businesses.   

Under Treadaway’s proposed legislation, a demonstrator would have to remain in jail for a 48-hour period before becoming eligible for bail if he or she partakes in a riot, blocks traffic during a demonstration, or assaults a first responder. Demonstrators would be charged with aggravated riot—a new felony crime that would be created under the proposed bill—if a person causes property damage or harms an individual. If a person is convicted of aggravated riot, he or she will face a minimum sentence of six months behind bars.  

Some Black lawmakers are criticizing the bill, insisting it will stop people from speaking out against injustice for fear of being charged with a felony. Lawmakers opposed to the bill argue that not everyone who participates in a protest is involved in violence. 

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“What this bill is trying to simply do is shut folks’ mouths,” said Senator Rodger Smitherman. “Black Lives Matter protesting out in the street, they want to snatch them up, throw them in a paddy wagon, charge them, keep them 48 hours before they can go before the judge and then find them guilty.” 

Representative Chris England, who chairs the Alabama Democratic Party, does not completely disagree with the bill. He believes people who evoke violence and damage property during protests should be held responsible. But he is, however, frustrated with the fact that the underlying cause of why protests occur in the first place is being ignored. According to England, “We want the same sort of condemnation that we all give to violence and rioting to some of the underlying issues.”