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Activists Blast NC Republican Measure Raising Riot Penalties

Protesters sat in front of police in riot gear on June 1, 2020
Jason deBruyn
Protesters sat in front of police in riot gear on June 1, 2020

Several Black activists blasted a Republican measure from the North Carolina House that would increase penalties for rioters, calling it racist legislation designed to silence otherwise peaceful demonstrators for justice.

The House voted this week for the bill, which would boost punishments for current riot-related crimes should a person's actions result in a serious injury or significant property damage. And a new felony would be created if the rioting results in a death. The measure also would allow property owners to seek three times the monetary damage caused by a rioter. New bond and pretrial release rules on rioting and looting charges would be instituted.

Speakers at a virtual news conference said the measure would attempt to intimidate individuals demanding racial equity following the deaths of Black people by police from exercising their free-speech rights, such as in the Black Lives Matter movement.

"This bill is without question, an attempt to tell you, Black and brown people, you should without question, accept your second class citizenry," said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of the racial justice group Emancipate NC.

House Speaker Tim Moore, the chief bill sponsor, said the changes were needed to shield businesses and residents from mayhem while discouraging violent actors from attempting to hijack peaceful vigils that the First Amendment protects. He cited the damage that overflowed from some demonstrations following the May 2020 death of George Floyd, but also to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Blagrove and other speakers urged listeners to do all they could to prevent the bill from being approved in the Senate, suggesting they would hold elected officials who support the bill politically accountable. Nearly half of the Democrats in the House voted for the bill, which passed 88-25 and now goes to the Senate.

The Senate unanimously approved a broader criminal justice and police reform bill Wednesday that contains some increases in rioting penalties but don't go as far as Moore's measure. One key Senate Democrat said Thursday he's hopeful that Moore's bill will be set aside.

"No one at the end of the day is promoting violence in our streets or damage to property or any type of bodily injury to anyone," Democratic Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed of Mecklenburg County said at a separate news conference. "As Americans, we have a constitutional right to protest and have our voices heard."

Associated Press
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