Below is the letter we will send to the Department of Justice:
Demand the Department of Justice Defends our Right to Protest!
Our right to protest is under threat.
It’s been nearly two years since millions of people around the world took to the streets in historic numbers for what became the longest, largest, and most sustained movement to stand up for Black lives. Our persistent, loud and clear voices, as well as organizing efforts were instrumental in obtaining a modicum of accountability for George Floyd.
Since then there have been over 100 anti-protest bills proposed across the country. And in 2022 already, several bills have been newly introduced or re-introduced from the previous legislative session.
Here’s just a sampling of some of what we’re up against:
- Several proposals being introduced include provisions that would strip people of public benefits, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment benefits, if they are convicted. This means people will have to weigh protesting against the risk of arrest and losing the ability to receive state benefits like health, housing, and more.
- A Tennessee law would make it a felony for demonstrators to camp at the state Capitol. The result? People convicted of protesting would lose their right to vote.
- In Florida, Oklahoma, and Iowa, laws grant immunity to drivers who run into protesters with their cars.
- A proposal in Indiana would ban anyone convicted from getting a state job or running for elected office.
- And laws in states like Georgia include provisions that would create civil immunity for a “volunteer” who uses or threatens to use force against a protester.
These laws are an attempt to criminalize free speech, punish those who speak up for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, and offer specific protections for counter-protesters who harm us.
We cannot be stopped and we cannot be silenced. From the March on Washington to the Black Lives Matter movement, civil unrest and protest are essential tools for our freedom and we will fight to protect them.
The Department of Justice has the power to make an impact by condemning these laws and supporting legal and advocacy efforts to fight them. Join us in urging the Department of Justice to defend our Constitutional right to protest.
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Here is the Petition:
We write to you to convey our concern over draconian and often unconstitutional anti-protest bills that harken back to the Jim Crow era. These laws are being introduced at an alarming rate across state legislatures, many passing quickly to become law – at the detriment of people’s First Amendment rights and the opportunity to engage in public discourse about issues of our time - most critically, racial injustice.
It’s been nearly two years since millions of people in the US and globally took to the streets in historic numbers for what became the longest, largest, and most sustained movement to stand up for Black lives. Our persistent, loud and clear voices, as well as organizing efforts were instrumental in obtaining a modicum of accountability for George Floyd. As a result of our collective repudiation of white supremacy and our challenges to police terror in Black communities, we’ve faced an unprecedented backlash from Republican lawmakers.
State lawmakers have introduced more than 100 punitive anti-protest bills since the summer of 2020, and more than 80 in 2021 alone - that’s more than twice as many proposals as in any other year. In 2022, several bills have been newly introduced or re-introduced from the previous legislative session in places like Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Florida. These laws, often backed by organizations affiliated with police unions, encapsulate an attempt to criminalize free speech, punish those who speak up for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, and even to offer specific protections for counter-protesters who harm us. In fact, police unions have advocated for anti-protest bills in 14 states, and bills proposed in at least 9 states include sponsorship from current or former law enforcement officers.
Some of the anti-protest laws proposed include efforts to strip people of public benefits - including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment benefits - which can have long-term consequences for the life and well-being of a protestor and/or their family, implicating not only the First Amendment but other constitutional rights. A Tennessee law would make it a felony for demonstrators to camp at the state Capitol - wherein a conviction would lead to a person losing their right to vote. That law would also require people arrested to be held at least 12 hours without bond. In Florida, Oklahoma, and Iowa, laws grant immunity to drivers who injure protesters with their cars - reminiscent of state-sanctioned white mob violence of the post-Reconstruction era. A proposed bill in Indiana would ban anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment, including elected office.
As civil rights leaders and advocates for equity, we call on the Department of Justice to investigate and make a public condemnation about this disturbing legislative trend as an assault on freedom of assembly and a tactic used to censor speech led by and supporting the movement for racial justice. We also ask that the Department of Justice supports legal challenges to unconstitutional proposals which get passed and signed into law.