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Lawmaker seeks harsher penalties for riots, defunding police

February 25, 2021 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama lawmaker wants to stiffen penalties for participating in a riot __ including making it a felony in some cases — a proposal that drew sharp criticisms from some lawmakers who said it was an overreaction to historic protests.

Republican Rep. Allen Treadaway, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief, on Wednesday introduced the bill that would stiffen penalties for participating in a riot that turned violent or destructive.

Treadaway said he began drafting the bill after a summer protest in Birmingham — in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis — turned destructive and led to multiple businesses being damaged.

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“This summer what I saw was so alarming,” Treadaway, R-Morris said. “That situation was hijacked. People could have died. Police officers were attacked,”

Treadaway said he is not talking about peaceful protests but said law enforcement needs additional tools to deter people “who are hell-bent on destruction.”

Under the bill, a person arrested for participating in a riot, blocking traffic during a protest or assaulting a first responder would have to wait 48 hours in jail before being eligible for bail. Treadaway said that is to give time to defuse the situation.

The bill would create the new felony crime of aggravated riot for knowingly participating in a riot that causes property damage or harm to a person. A person convicted of the crime, which would be a class C felony, would face a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in prison.

The bill would also create the crime of assault against a first responder, making it a felony to injure a first responder during a riot or to spit or throw bodily fluids on a first responder. Repeat offenses of obstructing traffic with sit-ins and marches would also become a felony.

It would also prohibit giving state money to local governments that defund their police department.

The bill drew sharp criticism from some Black lawmakers

“What this bill is trying to simply do is shut folks’ mouths,” Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said.

“Black Lives Matter protesting out in the street, they want to snatch them up, throw them in a paddy wagon, charge them, keep them 48 hours before they can go before the judge and then find them guilty,” Smitherman said.

Rep. Chris England, who also chairs the Alabama Democratic Party, said violence and property damage should be condemned in the strongest terms, but he said there is frustration that the underlying issues that led to the protests have not been given any consideration. Floyd died after a police officer put his knee on his neck for several minutes.

“We want the same sort of condemnation that we all give to violence and rioting to some of the underlying issues,” England, D-Tuscaloosa, said.