AUSTIN (KXAN) — Concern is brewing among protestors and social justice groups, after Governor Greg Abbott announced proposed legislation Thursday that would increase penalties for riot-related crimes.
“This is really going to deter people from exercising their rights. Largely, these are peaceful protests, and people are going to be scared of getting arrested. Charged with this would, could be severe,” said Andre Segura, legal director at ACLU of Texas.
The Governor’s legislative proposals include the following:
- Causing injury or destroying property in a riot: Felony offense and mandatory jail time.
- Striking a law enforcement officer during a riot: Felony offense and mandatory jail sentence of at least six months.
- Using lasers to target law enforcement officers: Felony offense and mandatory jail time.
- Blocking hospital entrances and exits by protestors or rioters: Felony offense and mandatory jail time.
- Using fireworks at protests and riots: Criminal offense and mandatory jail time.
- Aiding and abetting riots with funds or organizational assistance: Felony offense and mandatory jail time. This will also give the Office of the Attorney General power to pursue civil penalties against people and organizations.
“Just like in any other criminal enterprise, there will be efforts to see how they are moving into the violence and creating anarchy in our communities,” said Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) says it unfairly targets groups that are fighting for justice and not rioting.
“If we put a protest together and some random person comes and escalates the situation, based on the language he’s used today, that would make AJC accountable,” said Moore. “To put all that weight on peaceful protestors is crazy to me.”
Bonnen says the proposals are centered around protecting peaceful protestors.
“Those who want to be heard will be, and we will remove the element that is drowning out their respectful voice that deserves to be heard by all,” he explained.
Moore, who organized a march for Breonna Taylor last weekend, wants to see a comprehensive plan with language that targets police reform and justice.
“The fact that he’s using these tactics to silence people who are fed up with the system is part of the problem,” Moore said.
Over the next few months, legislators will weigh arguments from both sides ahead of the legislative session.