Freedom of speech is going to be a relic of antiquity inside Trump’s new America as Republican legislators in Arizona have moved to criminalize protest before said protests actually happen. Individuals who plan a protest may be arrested under the proposed legislation and even worse law enforcement will have the ability to seize the property of the accused before the accused are even found guilty. Not that planning a protest is anything with which one should be found guilty in the first place as the First Amendment has codified in law the right for individuals in the United States to assemble to share their grievances.
The proposed law, SB1142, has been sponsored, unsurprisingly, by three Republican state legislators, Sen. Sonny Borrelli Rep. Steve Montenegro, and Sen. Steve Smith. In an attempt to push a false narrative against “paid” protesters, the basis of the legislation grants law enforcement the ability to arrest individuals who are protesting peacefully on the basis that those protests may eventually turn violent. There does not have to be violence for the protesters to be arrested, turning toward a very dangerous precedent in a Minority Report-like world where individuals are arrested for things which have not yet happened.
Worst yet the SB1142 expands Arizona’s racketeering laws to include rioting, making those who participate in protests which may devolve into a riot to be considered in the eyes of the law to be the same as gangsters who participate in illegal gambling or the trafficking of drugs. In the usage of racketeering laws individuals who are arrested for participating may have their property, including their homes or vehicles, seized by the government. Furthermore, individuals who find their property seized are not granted the same rights of obtaining a court appointed attorney, and instead will have to pay for their own defense. How patriotic, no?
In an attempt to justify the despicable legislation Sen. John Kavanagh presented a Kafkaesque scenario:
Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts? Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?
Kavanagh went on to say, “You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder. A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists, but this stuff is all planned.”
What evidence did Kavanagh offer during his diatribe? Absolutely nothing. His point is seen as obviously absurd to thinking individuals as he advocates arresting individuals who have broken no laws based upon the supposition that the individuals might do something wrong. However, Democratic Sen. Steve Farley pointed out the law is baseless as there are already laws against the destruction of private property and law enforcement already has the ability to arrest individuals who perform such acts.
As protests grow across the United States in defiance of President Donald Trump, one understands why Republican legislators are eager to silence their detractors; but crafting such legislation would also hinder individuals with whom they tacitly agree. What happens, Sen. Farley mused, when Tea Party members who took to the streets years ago become embroiled in protest if their taxes are raised? Would the law apply to them as well?
As he eloquently put it:
One person, possibly from the other side, starts breaking the windows of a car. And all of a sudden the organizers of that march, the local Tea Party, are going to be under indictment from the county attorney in the county that raised those property taxes. That will have a chilling effect on anybody, right or left, who wants to protest something the government has done.
The Republicans who have pushed forward SB1142 will be exposed and drown in hypocrisy when protesters who advocate for causes they believe are also arrested under this hideous encroachment upon the First Amendment rights of Arizona’s citizens.
SB1142 was passed by the Arizona senate 17 to 13, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against.