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Changes aim to hit protestors with criminal records and beefed up fines and impunity for police who accidentally kill them.
Donald Trump was officially sworn in Friday as one of the most unpopular U.S. presidents in recent history, sparking off widespread protests around the world. Resistance through protest and mass organization in the U.S. is likely to become more difficult and increasingly regarded as a criminal act. Trump has voiced his intolerance for peaceful protest and a number of Republican-backed state laws have been proposed to crack down on peaceful demonstrations.
As Trump ushered in a new era of populist and belligerent politics, poised to “Make America Great Again,” the official White House official website was overhauled with his administration’s new agenda.
While all content related to civil rights, climate change, immigration, healthcare and LGBT issues were swiftly removed, one section that was added could be an ominous warning to resistance and protests movements under Trump’s rule:
“The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration. President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public … Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter or the violent disrupter,” read the new section, “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.”
While the passage paints protesters as out of control, if the crackdown on protesters in the capital during his inauguration were anything to go by, it could be more of the same from law enforcement.
State Republicans are also cracking down on protesters through a number of bills that have so far attracted little attention amid the media circus surrounding the changeover in presidential powers. Indeed the new changes could have significant consequences not only for anti-Trump demonstrators, but for wider social movements.
Already in North Dakota, a Republican bill squarely aimed at anti-pipeline protesters plans to exempt drivers who “unintentionally” hit or kill pedestrians who are obstructing traffic on public roads. Republican state lawmaker Keith Kempenich is spearheading the initiative along with other GOP members, influenced in part by his 72-year-old mother-in-law, who was blocked by a group of protests on a roadway. He admits the law specifically targets protesters.
In Minnesota, Republicans introduced a bill to make protesting on freeways a gross misdemeanor with fines of up to US$3,000 and one year jail time. It comes as BlackLivesMatter protests have shut down major roads, most notably after the police killing of Philando Castile. In another separately proposed Minnesota bill, the nonviolent obstruction of authorities would attract at least a year jail time and fines of up to US$10,000.
In Iowa, a similar bill to attach criminal penalties to protesters blocking roads in being planned by Republican lawmaker Bobby Kaufmann. The bill also targets state universities with public funding that hold sit-ins and additional grief counseling services for services related to Trump’s presidency.
In Washington state, Republicans have pushed a change that would create the new crime of “economic terrorism” for protests which “harm a person’s ability to make a living,” said Senator Doug Ericksen, who was deputy director of Trump’s campaign in Seattle, to Kiro 7.
In Michigan, a number of Democrats are fearful that Republicans will attempt to reintroduce anti-picketing legislation that was previously dropped. The law aimed to fine picketers US$1,000 per day and hit organizing union with a daily fine of US$10,000.
Social movements and civil liberties groups have been highly critical of the proposed criminal changes, with many seeing it as the criminalization of a dearly held civil right for citizens to publicly demonstrate.