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Law Enforcement Has Quietly Backed Anti-Protest Bills In At Least 8 States

Above photo: A protestor raises his fist during the shutdown of highway I-94 on July 9, 2016, in St. Paul, Minnesota, in response to the police killing of Philando Castile. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

Minneapolis Police 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 acknowledgment 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 is 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.

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