Law Enforcement Has Quietly Backed Anti-Protest Bills in at Least 8 States Since Trump’s Election


Midwest / Illinois 51 Views

April 16 | Web Exclusive

Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll told In These Times that he lobbied Minnesota lawmakers to advance a statewide law clamping down on protests—legislation that civil liberties advocates say targets Black Lives Matter.

The pending bill, HF 390/SF 676, would significantly increase fees and jail time for protesters who block highways, a common civil disobedience tactic, including at protests against police killings. According to the ACLU of Minnesota, the proposed legislation “chills dissent” and constitutes an “attempt to silence Black Lives Matter movement.”

“I knew they were trying to pass it last year, and I encouraged them to do it again,” Kroll told In These Times

Kroll has faced numerous accusations of racism for, among other comments, likening protests against police killings to “the local version of Benghazi” in 2015 and calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” in 2016.

His acknowledgement of the lobbying by his union, Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, raises concerns that law enforcement is pressuring legislators to clamp down on protests—and specifically, on protests against police violence. “Cops are going to keep pursuing ways to keep themselves above the fray and unaccountable for the things they do,” says Tony Williams, a member of the MPD150, a police abolitionist project that recently released a “150-year performance review of the Minneapolis Police Department. “It's a naked case of self-interest more than anything else.”

Minneapolis police aren’t alone: According to research conducted for In These Times in partnership with Ear to the Ground, law enforcement in at least eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and Wyoming—lobbied on behalf of anti-protest bills in 2017 and 2018. The bills ran the gamut from punishing face coverings at protests to increasing penalties for “economic disruption” and highway blockage to criminalizing civil protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” like oil pipelines.

Emboldened by the Trump administration, at least 31 states have considered 62 pieces of anti-protest legislation since November 2016, with at least seven enacted and 31 still pending. The full scope of police support for these bills is not yet known. As in the case of Kroll, police support often takes place in private meetings, far from the public eye.

That police are playing any role in this wave of anti-protest legislation is raising alarm among organizers and civil liberties advocates. Traci Yoder, director of research and education for the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive bar association, is the author of a recent report on the forces behind the wave of anti-protest bills, which include conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporations like as Energy Transfer Partners (the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline) and state Departments of Homeland Security.

“We are deeply concerned about the role of law enforcement agencies and leaders supporting the current wave of anti-protest legislation,” Yoder tells In These Times. “We see this as a direct response to the success and visibility of recent movements of color such as Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL. The collusion we are seeing between law enforcement, lawmakers and corporate interests is undemocratic and designed to deter social movements for racial and environmental justice.”

Beyond Minnesota

Following uprisings in Ferguson, Standing Rock, Baltimore and elsewhere, the policing of protests became a hot topic at law enforcement conferences and within law enforcement publications. But law enforcement like Lt. Bob Kroll are not merely discussing how to apply the law to protests, but actively lobbying for new laws curbing public action.

According to research by In These Times and Ear to the Ground, police associations, police unions, district attorneys or officers in leadership positions lobbied in favor of “protest suppression” laws in 2017 and 2018 in at least eight states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and Wyoming.

State Year Introduced Bill Law Enforcement Support Result
Arizona 2018 HB 2007: Wearing “disguise at protest” Rebecca Baker of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Weakened, but signed
Florida 2017 SB 1096/HB 1419: Blocking Highways Fraternal Order of Police Died
Georgia 2017 HB 452: Domestic Terrorism, including anyone who “disables or destroys” a highway/street or a public building Fraternal Order of Police Signed
Iowa 2017, 2018 SF 426: Blocking Highways; SF 2222: Blocking Highways Iowa State Police Association Did not pass in 2017, but reintroduced in 2018 and pending
Iowa 2018 SF 2235: Critical Infrastructure Iowa Dept of Homeland Security Passed, awaiting governor’s signature
Minnesota 2017 HF 390/SF 676: Blocking Highways Lt. Bob Kroll / Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis Pending
Missouri 2017, 2018 HB 826: Blocking Highways; HB 2145: Blocking Highways Missouri State Troopers Association, Fraternal Order of Police and the Missouri Sheriff’s Association Did not pass in 2017, but reintroduced in 2018 and pending
Washington Dec. 2016, 2018 SB 5009: Economic disruption Whatcom County Prosecutor Dave McEachran Did not pass in 2017, but reintroduced in 2018 and pending
Wyoming 2018 SF 74: Protests Near Critical Infrastructure Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Vetoed

One bill was signed, two passed but were vetoed, and a 2018 Iowa bill to protect “critical infrastructure” has passed, but still awaits its governor’s signature. Four are still pending, and the rest died or were voted down.

In other states, top sponsors of protest suppression legislation had close ties to law enforcement. In Tennessee, for example, the main sponsor of a bill that was signed into law in 2017 was a member of Blue Lives Matter Tennessee.

These state-level efforts appear to be compounding the repressive national political climate, where the Trump administration has aggressively prosecuted more than 200 Inauguration Day protesters, and the president has openly endorsed police brutality.

Support for state-level anti-protest laws extends far beyond police departments, as showcased in Minnesota, where an action item to require “prosecution of protestors who impede emergency traffic” was approved by the Republican Party Convention in 2016.

And the cozy relationship between Minnesota state lawmakers extends far beyond anti-protest legislation. Representative Zerwas and Minnesota State Senator Tony Cornish, who have advanced the anti-protest legislation, have also advanced law enforcement’s agenda on a number of other issues, including body worn cameras, school police and new protections for police dogs.

As highway-blocking protests continue, some in Minneapolis remain skeptical that police are—or will ever be—on the public’s side.

“Police officers and police unions try to portray themselves as nonpartisan enforcers of laws,” says Williams. “But if you look at the history of police departments in Minneapolis and across the country, there's a documented history of that not being true. Police have an agenda.”