Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature is advancing a bill to silence future protesters and financially punish the organizers. The bill is justified by state Representatives’ claims that ‘paid protesters’ are intentionally starting riots (these claims have been debunked) and their apparently genuine indignation over having to deal with irate constituents at town halls, whom they also claim are being paid. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1142 along party lines this week after heated debate with Democrats over its effects on free speech.1. [Alia Beard Rau, Arizona protest bill: What you need to know, The Republic, Feb. 23, 2017. Available: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/legislature/2017/02/23/5-things-know-arizona-bill-arrest-protesters-riot/98302932/]↩
Rioting, defined as ‘two or more people using or threatening force or violence in a way that disturbs the peace’, is already illegal in Arizona, but SB 1142 would expand the definition to allow charges if the force or violence results in property damage. Because rioting is defined as ‘two or more people acting together,’ this bill could allow protest organizers to be prosecuted if someone else is involved in the rioting, even if that person isn’t part of the organizing group. It cold also lead to organizers to being prosecuted just for planning an event that prosecutors believe could result in rioting. The bill would also add rioting to the list of offenses that can be addressed under state racketeering statutes. If a case is made for racketeering, the sentence would include more than a year in prison and seizure of protesters’ or organizers’ assets. In addition, it would make them financially responsible for any property damage.