The Oklahoma Senate passed a bill this week that would give legal protections to drivers who hit protesters with their vehicles while fleeing during a riot. The legislation would also create new penalties for rioters.
House Bill 1674, as previously reported by TheBlaze, would create a new section of law to protect motorists that strike one or more persons while fleeing from a riot from criminal liability if the motorist had a reasonable belief that their actions were necessary to protect themselves from serious injury or death. The bill would also impose penalties for protesters that "unlawfully obstruct streets or highways, blocking vehicles," KFOR-TV reported.
"We actually saw this happen here in Oklahoma last year when a Tulsa family was surrounded by rioters. Through no fault of their own, they were caught in a dangerous situation, and fearing for their lives, they were attempting to get away," bill sponsor state Sen. Rob Standridge (R) said. "The prosecutor declined to file charges, but that may not always be the case. This bill will protect innocent people trapped by a rioting mob."
Here is video of the incident to which Standridge referred:
Any driver who "unintentionally causes injury or death" while fleeing from a riot in their vehicle would be protected under the proposed law.
Individuals who "unlawfully obstruct" approaching vehicles from using a public street, highway, or road or endanger a vehicle's or person's safe movement would be subject to misdemeanor penalties. Those found guilty could be punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a fine ranging from $100 to $500, as well as liability for damage to person or property, according to KFOR-TV.
"This bill adds to language in existing law regarding riots and is directly in line with the Tulsa district attorney's decision over the summer that protected a motorist fleeing a riot," state Rep. Kevin West (R), one of the bill's co-authors, explained. "This is an important protection for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation. When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families or their property."
However, critics say the bill would infringe upon Oklahomans' right to protest.
CAIR-OK, the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, released a statement opposing the bill after it passed the Senate Wednesday.
"This law is dangerous and meant to discourage Oklahomans from exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protest," CAIR-OK government affairs director Lani R. Habrock said. "This bill is one of many across the country seeking to suppress the voice of the people."
In a statement to TheBlaze, Standridge responded to CAIR-OK, characterizing the incident in Tulsa last summer as a violent crime committed against the family in the vehicle.
"Surrounding a vehicle full of innocent people, then threatening to drag them out and beat them up, is not constitutionally-protected, it's not peaceful, and it's not a protest. It's a crime. If it's illegal to hitchhike on the interstate, which it is, it certainly should be illegal to deliberately block traffic and menacingly threaten passersby," Standridge said. "If we ignore what happened in Tulsa last summer it emboldens every anarchist and Marxist to run roughshod through our streets."
The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for either his signature or veto.