Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed bills granting immunity to drivers whose vehicles strike and injure protesters in public streets.
A Republican proposal in Indiana would bar anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment, including elected office. A Minnesota bill would prohibit those convicted of unlawful protesting from receiving student loans, unemployment benefits or housing assistance.
And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed sweeping legislation this week that toughened existing laws governing public disorder and created a harsh new level of infractions — a bill he's called "the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro-law-enforcement piece of legislation in the country."
The measures are part of a wave of new anti-protest legislation, sponsored and supported by Republicans, in the 11 months since Black Lives Matter protests swept the country following the death of George Floyd.
While Democrats seized on Floyd's death in May to highlight racism in policing and other forms of social injustice, Republicans responded to a summer of protests by proposing a raft of punitive new measures governing the right to lawfully assemble. GOP lawmakers in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative session — more than twice as many proposals as in any other year, according to Elly Page, a senior legal adviser at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks legislation limiting the right to protest.
The laws carry forward the hyperbolic message Republicans have been pushing: that Democrats are tolerant of violent and criminal actions from those who protest against racial injustice.
"This is consistent with the general trend of legislators' responding to powerful and persuasive protests by seeking to silence them rather than engaging with the message of the protests," said Vera Eidelman, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Laws already exist to punish rioting, and civil rights advocates worry that the new bills violate rights of lawful assembly and free speech protected under the First Amendment. The overwhelming majority of last summer's nationwide Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful — more than 96% involved no property damage or police injuries, according to the Washington Post, which also found that police officers or counterprotesters often instigated violence.
State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from Broward County and a vocal critic of the law, noted that DeSantis had been quick to emphasize how necessary the bill was the day after the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol but had made no mention of that event during Monday's bill signing, focusing solely on the protests.
That was evidence, he said, that bills aimed at punishing protesters were disproportionately targeting people of color.
"This bill is racist at its core," Jones said.
So far, three bills aimed at limiting protests have been signed into law — Florida's and new laws in Arkansas and Kansas that target protesters who seek to disrupt oil pipelines. Others are likely to come soon.