Oklahoma lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill that threatens the lives of protesters. The State’s Republican-majority House voted to grant drivers immunity if they “unintentionally” run over demonstrators. This bill will also allow law enforcement to charge protestors with a misdemeanor if they unlawfully obstruct traffic. If found guilty, protesters would spend a maximum of 1 year behind bars and have to pay $5,000 in fines.
This legislation comes after protests erupted nationwide in 2020 over the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. In Oklahoma, some people were struck by vehicles while protesting. In one tragic incident in Tulsa, protesters were demonstrating on the highway when a truck drove through the crowd, seriously injuring several people. Many were upset when the county district attorney decided not to charge the driver for plowing through the group. What’s even worse is that this new bill would ensure that every driver who “unintentionally” runs over demonstrators will not be held responsible. The blame would solely rest with protesters.
I’ll admit that protesters who hold up traffic can be an inconvenience, but I’ll take a little inconvenience if it will prevent the next unarmed African American from dying at the hands of police. Being late for work is a minute issue compared to the grave issue of police brutality and systemic racism.
Many people around the country are desperate for change. They are sick of having the same conversations and seeing very little done to ensure the safety of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Protesting peacefully over the deaths of unarmed African Americans has proven to have little to no effect. Therefore, protesters feel they have to cause disruptions in order to be seen and heard. There wouldn’t be a need to protest if America would just deal with its police brutality problem.
With this bill, we could easily see a repeat of what happened to Heather Heyer during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017. The driver in that case intentionally drove into the crowd, but what would stop a driver in Oklahoma doing the same and claiming it was unintentional? This legislation leaves protesters vulnerable to attack from extremist groups, from angry Karens who are tired of waiting for demonstrators to pass, or anyone who wants to cause harm.
This legislation is just another example of America showing its racism and commitment to maintaining the status quo. Protesting in the streets isn’t the problem. Police senselessly killing unarmed African Americans and getting away with it repeatedly is the issue. It’s 2021 and high time for America get its priorities in order.