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Oklahoma Legislature OKs bill to crack down on protesters

April 14, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this May 31, 2020, file photo, protesters surround a truck shortly before it drove through the group injuring several on Interstate 244 in Tulsa, Okla. A Republican-backed bill aimed at cracking down on protests by increasing penalties for blocking roadways and granting immunity to motorists who kill or injure rioters received final legislative approval on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Oklahoma City. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)
FILE - In this May 31, 2020, file photo, protesters surround a truck shortly before it drove through the group injuring several on Interstate 244 in Tulsa, Okla. A Republican-backed bill aimed at cracking down on protests by increasing penalties for blocking roadways and granting immunity to motorists who kill or injure rioters received final legislative approval on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 in Oklahoma City. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Republican-backed bill aimed at cracking down on protests by increasing penalties for blocking roadways and granting immunity to motorists who kill or injure rioters received final legislative approval on Wednesday.

The state Senate voted 38-10, mostly along party lines, for the bill that now heads to the governor’s desk.

The measure is one of a series of GOP-backed proposals that would increase criminal penalties for activities associated with protests last summer over racial injustice and police brutality.

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The bill would make it misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine for anyone who blocks the use of a public street. The measure would also grant a motorist criminal and civil immunity if they kill or injure someone while fleeing from a riot.

Blocking roadways is a longtime tactic of nonviolent protesters dating back to even before the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Sen. Rob Standridge, a Republican from Norman who wrote the bill, said it was prompted mostly by an incident in Tulsa last summer in which a pickup truck drove through a crowd gathered on a Tulsa interstate while protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several people were injured, including one who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from an overpass, but the driver, whose family was in the car, was not charged.

“The kids cowered in the back seat because they feared for their lives,” Standridge said. “That’s what this bill is about.”

Sen. Kevin Matthews, a Democrat from Tulsa and the chairman of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, said he was particularly troubled to see legislation targeting protesters but not the underlying issues of police brutality and systemic racism.

“In my community, people were bombed from the air, people had cannons shot into our churches, by some accounts 300 people dead and businesses burned down,” Matthews said, referring to the 1921 attack by a white mob on the city’s Black community. “And it was said my people were rioting when it was not true.”