A newly proposed bill in Missouri would allow the use of deadly force against protesters on private property and allow drivers to hit demonstrators if threatening while blocking traffic.
“To think that your right to protest enables you the right to stop traffic and literally stop people’s ability to move about freely in this nation is a gross misunderstanding of our constitutional rights,” bill sponsor Sen. Rick Brattin said during the Monday hearing.
“That’s what this is, it’s a blatant I don’t care,” said Larry Flenoid, who organized a large Black Lives Matter protest in Springfield last summer. “They’re trying to suppress our voices. Not only are you trying to suppress our rights, but you’re stripping our rights at the same time.”
Flenoid said he fears the bill is an attack on democracy.
”People who have a reason to protest, our gay community, you know the black community, the poor community, everybody who feels like their rights is being taken away from them,” he said. “This deters our way of having our voices heard because now you’re trying to scare us by telling us you’re going to allow our own community members to run us down.”
Brattin, a Republican from Harrisonville, said the bill has been slightly taken out of context. He said a driver would only be able to hit a protester if they felt threatened by them.
“This is if you have an imminent threat against your life,” Brattin said. “Somebody standing in the roadway keeping you from going down the street is not an imminent threat on your life.”
Brattin said this would include a driver who is being attacked, held hostage or being forced out of the car.
“It will be like the stand your ground provision is going to be forwarded to someone in a vehicle to where you feel your life is in jeopardy and peril, and the well being of the people in your family and your car is in imminent danger, that gives you the ability to get out of that situation.”
But those opposed still said they feel the bill would be dangerous.
”Because you are basically giving community members the use of deadly force against other community members when it’s supposed to be the police’s job to enforce the law and control things like that,” Flenoid said.
Protesters in the street would also face a class E felony under the bill. Brattin also said it is about protecting emergency response times.
“I would say if you’re driving you’re driving your wife to the hospital who is having a massive heart attack in your front seat to the hospital, and people are obstructing the view, I would say it would error on the side of the law that you would have the right to do whatever you had to do to save your loved one’s life,” Brattin said.
While the bill aims to help first responders, Flenoid said police can help take care of that like they did when he organized a large protest over the summer. He also said he and other organizers did take emergency responders into consideration over the summer during protests.
”We did coordinate with police and gave them a route we were going to march, and they blocked everything off,” he said. “They kept all of the community members safe. There were no problems. Nobody tried to break through lines. It went off without a hitch.”
Flenoid said coordinating with law enforcement is a safer and more efficient alternative.
Anyone charged with assaulting a law enforcement official or first responder would also no longer be eligible for bond, probation or parole under the legislation.
The Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill.