Arizona state senators passed a law that allows police to arrest people involved in planning or participating in a peaceful protest because they’re afraid people taking to the streets to protest in the first days of President Donald Trump’s administration are being paid.
The legislation, if passed by the Arizona House, would give law enforcement the ability to criminally prosecute and seize assets of people who plan or participate in a protest. The bill furthers the reach of the state’s racketeering laws to include rioting, which it redefines as any action that causes property damage. Racketeering has traditionally been targeted at organized crime.
The law makes anyone at a protest guilty by association if even just one person turns violent or begins damaging property. The police would have the right to arrest anyone present and criminally prosecute them, even if they personally were peacefully protesting and had not engaged in any violent or destructive behavior.
Republican senators hope this will deter the “paid protester” phenomenon they argue is behind mass demonstrations across the country and angry confrontations with Republican members of Congress as they visit their home districts.
Arizona Republican state Sen. John Kavanagh asserted the bill was necessary because recent protests haven’t been organic.
“You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,’’ he said. “A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists.”
The assertion that the wave of protest is manufactured has become a Republican talking point as the Trump administration finishes its first month in office with record low approval ratings. Trump himself, with no evidence, claimed on Twitter the “so-called angry crowds” at Republican town halls were organized by liberals.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said “protesting has become a profession now” and the demonstrations since Trump came into office were not like the “organic uprising” of the tea party movement that grew out of opposition to former President Barack Obama. Spicer did not provide any instances in which paid protesters were found at demonstrations.
The bill was passed Wednesday on a party line vote, with Arizona Democrats arguing the bill would repress First Amendment rights to protest and could allow an entire group to be arrested during a demonstration even if someone from an outside group starts violence.
“I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard,’’ Arizona state Democratic Sen. Andrea Dalessandro said.