Tennessee is joining Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri and about a dozen other states in attempting to give criminal immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” plow their cars into protesters.
The bill would shield drivers from criminal prosecution, but only if they somehow “exercises due caution” while ramming into a crowd of soft fragile human bodies. From WZTV:
Lawmakers supporting the bill say it protects drivers from harm if they’re targeted during a protest.
“If you’re intentionally cause harm this bill won’t cover you, that’s not what we’re trying to do here,” Representative William Lamberth said in a recent hearing on the bill.
Lawmakers discussed the bill in a criminal justice subcommittee meeting. Representative Bruce Griffey, who co-sponsored the bill, said he wanted stronger language to protect people trying to drive away from protests.
“Maybe [we] add a provision if someone is trying to flee the situation to avoid the life threatening situation and they happen to hurt someone in the course of fleeing,” Griffey said.
That sounds completely reasonable, right? It’s really the additional language in the bill that would bump up blocking streets as a form of protest from a misdemeanor to a felony that makes all that “unintentionally” language seem like a real wink and a nod to those who would do harm to protesters. Such bills are almost always equal parts harsher punishments for protesters and more protections for drivers, like Oklahoma’s, which would make blocking a road a felony punishable by two years and make it harder for protesters to be released from jail.
It’s not as if people who plow into protesters receive much in the way of punishment right now anyway. By the middle of last summer during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests there were 66 incidents of cars ramming protesters with only 24 of those cases resulting any kind of charges. Seven of those incidents involved police cars hitting protestors. Prosecutors routinely decline to press chargers against drivers when they feel an argument could be made that drivers were fleeing for their lives.
The most well-known incident of a driver driving into a crowd occurred in 2017, when James Alex Fields Jr. rammed into a peaceful protest against the Unite the Right rally, killing Heather Heyer and injuring one more. Fields was actually charged and is currently serving life in prison. Before Heyer’s death, North Carolina was also considering a similar bill, but it was allowed to fade following the attack. Kinda makes you think this legislation isn’t such a good idea.