The Arizona Legislature’s House Speaker, J.D. Mesnard, has announced that he has no plans to consider Senate Bill 1142, which means that it is effectively dead. This bill would have allowed protesters to be charged with racketeering if a protest becomes violent. This bill was a response to accusations that some protesters have been paid to stir up violence and riots at protests throughout the nation. The bill was meant to crack down on the groups that may be organizing this violence but was perceived as a violation of the First Amendment right to peaceful protest. Opponents feared that it could have been used to target the organizers of protests who meant for things to stay peaceful, but their intentions were derailed by outside groups who were out to cause trouble.
Arizona Legislature House Speaker Announces No Plans To Reprimand Rioters
Rioting is already considered illegal, but the bill would have added it to the list of offenses covered by Arizona’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations laws. This would have given prosecutors the ability to pursue the seizure of protest organizers’ property, including placing liens on their houses, if the protest degenerated into rioting even if the organizers did everything they could reasonably do to keep things peaceful.
So perhaps the bill could have done a better job of targeting only those who actually incite violence and rioting at protests, but this does not mean that the victims of violent protests should not be compensated for damage done. The First Amendment specifically states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In this case, the relevant phrase is, “The right of the people peaceably to assemble.” This does not mean that residents of the U.S. have the right to assemble for the purpose of rioting, looting businesses, torching cars and seriously injuring or killing people. This may call attention to the cause promoted by protest organizers who may have intended for things to remain peaceful, but it does so in a negative way and causes those who may have seen the rioting firsthand or watched it on the news to refuse to be associated with the original reason for the protest. Besides that, riots, looting and other negative and violent behavior during the protest do tangible harm to innocent bystanders who may have sympathized with the original cause but now have to deal with a serious financial loss.
This means that the bill and any similar measures that are being considered by state legislatures should be revised to hold the actual rioters accountable for the damage they caused. That way, peaceful protesters will not feel that their actions are being criminalized and law enforcement can still address the problem of rioters who may or may not be paid by outside parties to make the protest look bad. Rioters should also compensate property and business owners for losses suffered due to their actions as soon as possible upon being tried and convicted in criminal court. This may mean that their assets are seized and sold or it may mean that their wages are garnished if they have a job. This alone may deter troublemakers who may not be intimidated by the simple threat of a jail sentence.
It would also be a way to handle the situation in a way that makes sure that innocent victims are compensated without taking it out on organizers who may have watched helplessly as their protest got completely out of control. The injured parties may be people who may have lost the ability to earn a livelihood because they were badly injured in a riot or because their businesses were looted. Insurance companies may refuse to cover any damage caused by criminal activity. Then it becomes as much a matter of who is going to pay to repair the damage caused. It may be that the protest organizers can testify against the actual rioters, but they may hesitate to get involved if they believe that they and not the actual rioters are going to be held liable for the damage caused.
Some liberals may call this unfair to the rioters who are convicted and made to pay damages and use the excuse that they were simply venting their frustrations at an ephemeral system. This does not change the fact that the rioters are usually full adults who can and should be held responsible for harming other people who may simply be peacefully going about their business and earning a living. Smashing in a window and stealing merchandise out of somebody’s business does not hurt the larger system very much. It does hurt a business owner who may be frustrated too – at the payroll taxes, regulations, city codes and unreasonable customers that he or she must put up with on a daily basis. This does not mean that the business owner had much of a say in any of these things, and he or she is hurt financially when rioters who are taking out their frustrations on innocent people cause property damage and steal from the business.
So bills like Senate Bill 1142 are not meant to curtail First Amendment rights like the right to peaceful assembly. They are simply meant to inject some sanity into the process of petitioning the government for redress of a real or imagined grievance. If written and implemented well, these will place the liability squarely on those who participate in an actual violent protest and not on those who take any and all reasonable steps in their efforts to organize a peaceful protest. They will also provide a mechanism that those who are harmed in a violent protest or riot can use to receive compensation for their loss. This way, the issue of property damage, looting and physical injury that occurs during riots and other forms of non-peaceful protest can be addressed as justly as possible for all parties concerned, including protest organizers who may not have intended for the protest to become violent.
What do you think about the Arizona Legislature and their decision about rioters? let us know in the comment section below.