Civil rights activists are slamming a Republican’s effort to create a law that would make it unsafe for people to protest, especially near roads.
In response to the North Dakota Access Pipeline protest, Rep. Keith Kempenich has introduced House Bill 1203 that would protect drivers from liability if they “accidentally” kill or injure a protester.
“[Roads are] not there for the protesters. It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian. They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger” said Kempenich, who added he had seen DAPL protesters jumping in front of vehicles.
The Republican said one should consider what would happen if a driver sees a crowd of people holding banners jump in front of the car. He could push on “the accelerator rather than the brakes” in a moment of panic.
“A driver of a motor vehicle who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street or highway is not guilty of an offense,” the bill reads.
However, some people are concerned that the legislation would become a precedent to undermine some forms of protest and might even excuse violence against protesters. It “criminalizes the protest” as well as puts the protesters’ lives in danger.
“It’s shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space,” said Tara Houska, a Native American environmental activist who resided at the Cannon Ball campsite.
The bill was drafted without consulting the elders of the Sioux, something that Standing Rock Chairman Dave Archambault II took offense with.
“The state claims they want to work closely with the tribe on repairing our relationship with them,” Archambault told reporters. “Clearly that is not happening when legislation that impacts us is being drafted without consultation, consent or even basic communication.”
Members of the Sioux tribe see the oil pipeline as a cultural and environmental threat and their protest has cost North Dakota over $22 million.
It’s not yet clear whether the bill will be passed, but House Majority Leader Al Carlson told a local newspaper he “won’t violate the right to peaceful protest.”
It’s strange the state did not address the aggressive behaviors of the police officers towards the water protectors, yet found it OK to pardon drivers who run over protesters.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Josh Morgan