The activism that has been ignited by the Trump administration has once again proven its value for our troubled democracy.
This time it was a loud and persistent outcry in the state of Arizona that helped to stop a dangerous law from passing in the state legislature.
Senate Bill 1142 passed through the upper house of the Arizona state legislature two weeks ago. As is so often the case, the bill passed along strict party lines.
In an unbelievable attempt to squash free speech in the famously conservative state, the bill was designed to make it possible for protestors to be arrested for any act that damages property. It changed the definition of “rioting,” an act that is already illegal in Arizona, to include any such property damage.
So theoretically, if a protestor broke a branch off of a bush while holding up his sign, he could be arrested for “rioting.”
That part is not what got so many people upset at the bill, however. What was so dangerous and authoritarian about this bill is that it would have allowed protestors to be arrested and charged under the state’s racketeering laws.
What does that mean?
According to the bill’s fact sheet, it means that “no overt action is required” for charges to be filed. All a person has to do, under the racketeering statute, is to plan an act that would violate the law.
So any protestor who planned to engage in any public gathering that might result in any damage to property could be arrested and charged with “rioting.” A potential protestor could be arrested even if they didn’t attend the actual event. The state would also be allowed to seize any and all assets belonging to that person.
I am not exaggerating.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had a lot to say about the proposed law. A spokesman for the ACLU of Arizona said:
“The purported purpose for this bill isn’t based in reality. The bill’s supporters are using the false ‘paid protestors’ argument to connect this bill to what is commonly the purpose of anti-racketeering laws: targeting the financial incentives of criminal enterprises.”
“But if this bill were to pass, ‘riot’ would join ‘terrorism’ as the only racketeering crimes in Arizona that would not require a financial incentive.”
The real purpose of the racketeering laws in the U.S. is to prevent fraudulent businesses from profiting. It’s most often targeted at organized crime, but has also been used to go after major fraud cases (like the Trump University Case.)
In an effort to prevent terrorism, some states, including Arizona, have added terrorism to the list of crimes falling under its racketeering law. As the spokesman said, the bill in question would have added “rioting” to the list as well.
Luckily, the ACLU and other groups who support the First Amendment rallied voters to call their legislators, including Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard (R).
Their voices and calls were heard, and the speaker decided that the bill would not be heard in the House after all. He said that he didn’t want it to seem as if the intention was to limit people’s rights. Even though that is, of course, exactly what the bill would have done.
All in all, it was a very close call for freedom and civil liberties in Arizona, but this time the good guys one.
Another reminder of the power of resistance.
Featured image via YouTube screengrab.