After Charlottesville, Republicans Defend Bills to Protect Drivers Who Hit Protesters

Following Heather Heyer death on Saturday—killed when a suspected Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove his car into a crowd of people counter-protesting violent white supremacist gatherings in Charlottesville, Virginia—Republican lawmakers have doubled down on proposals that critics say offer immunity from liability to drivers who run down protestors.

Largely in response to mass demonstrations by Black Lives Matter activists and water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, this year state legislators in Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas introduced bills designed to protect motorists who strike people demonstrating on roads.

On Sunday, Texas State Rep. Pat Fallon defended his proposal (pdf)—which was recently referred to committee—and accused critics of not knowing “the difference between lawfully protesting in a street and illegally blocking a [highway],” according to a screenshot published by The Intercept (his original posts on Twitter and Facebook have been deleted).

Fallon’s proposal states:

North Carolina’s measure passed the state’s House in April, in light of Heyer’s death in Charlottesville, the chairman of the state Senate’s rules and operations committee told News & Observer in a statement on Monday, “there are no plans to move it forward.”

Even so, the bill’s co-sponsors, state Reps. Justin Burr and Chris Millis, defended their legislation in a statement to The Intercept Monday:

Although legal experts have also said it appears unlikely that the North Carolina measure would enable drivers who intentionally strike protestors to evade prosecution, critics, including Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper—who has promised to veto the proposal if it reaches his desk—say it “sends the wrong message and opens the door to potentially serious consequences.” 

Pointing to incidents in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and South Carolina, Henry Grabar argues in a Slate piece published Monday that there exists “a long-running right-wing fantasy of running over protesters, especially members of Black Lives Matter who have blocked intersections and highways during rallies.”