Building legislation on top of the political equivalent of an urban myth is never a good idea. Fold in something routinely abused by law enforcement and you’ve got a proposed bill whose short name should be “Shit Sandwich.”
That’s the (tentative) plan in Arizona, where the existential threat of “paid protesters” has resulted in a terrible bill that promises to use a handful of Constitutional amendments as a doormat. (via Raw Story)
SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others.
Nothing good can come from the expansion of racketeering laws, which are already abused by government agencies and citizens alike. But it gets worse. A lot worse. It doesn’t just apply to protesters who damage property. It applies to anyone possibly connected to a protest in which damage occurs, even if they don’t induce or encourage the destruction. (Perhaps even if they speak out against violent acts, but still support the demonstration’s premise.)
And, to top it all off, police officers would not only be authorized to arrest people engaged in First Amendment activity just because someone down the street broke a window, but also to enrich themselves in the process.
But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what’s worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side.
Supporters of asset forfeiture always claim it’s a great tool for defunding criminal ventures. I can only imagine the verbal gymnastics that will need to be deployed to justify taking cash, cars, whatever from protesters, especially when the state’s existing laws already criminalize rioting but without the added “bonus” of depriving rioters of their cash, homes, cars, etc. Do the legislators actually believe protesters are being paid in small, unmarked bills and mid-priced sedans?
The “guilt by association” aspect allows law enforcement to apply its discretion, which is seldom a good thing. The moment anything is damaged, it’s open season on protest attendees. In fact, it’s open season on non-attendees as well, if cops can dredge up anything that appears to be evidence of protest planning. Acquiring a permit pre-demonstration is no longer an act of good faith. It’s self-incriminating.
One supporter of this truly stupid legislation believes the state’s existing riot laws don’t work because… wait for it… the bail system exists.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said the new criminal laws are necessary.
“I have been heartsick with what’s been going on in our country, what young people are being encouraged to do,’’ she said.
She agreed with Quezada that there already are laws that cover overt acts. But Allen said they don’t work.
“If they get thrown in jail, somebody pays to get them out,’’ she said. “There has to be something to deter them from that.’’
I don’t often can’t even, but… here we are. People have argued against the bail system because it’s stacked against the poorest criminal suspects, but I’ve never heard the system portrayed as faulty because it works exactly the way it’s intended to. And the new law wouldn’t change anything this legislator is concerned about. Brand new criminal charges stemming from the stupid bill would still allow suspects to post bail. The only difference is they may not have the cash to do it or a car to drive home if they make bail. Maybe that’s what Allen is referring to: extra layers of punitiveness because most current protests are targeting the senator’s party — which also happens to be the party in power at the moment.
This made it past a House vote in Arizona, suggesting the state’s craziness isn’t confined to Maricopa County. It won’t survive a Constitutional challenge if it somehow manages to stumble out the governor’s desk without being vetoed.