N.C. house passes bill to increase punishment for riots, civil disorder

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 6:49 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at increasing penalties for rioting and civil disorder on Monday.

The bill will now be sent to the senate.

House Bill 805: Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder, passed the North Carolina House of Representatives with an 88-25 vote.

The bill would seek to deter future civil unrest through multiple avenues.

The legislation would significantly increase penalties for inciting a riot that leads to death, engaging in riots and engaging in riots that lead to the physical injury of a first responder.

Under the bill, individuals whose person or property are damaged in a riot would be able to recover treble damages, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.

“Riots and looting devastated many North Carolina downtowns last year at a time when many small businesses were already struggling,” said Speaker Tim Moore. “This legislation will seek to deter future riots and increase penalties on those who engage in this anti-social anarchy.”

The bill does not use the word “protest” in its writing and defines a riot as “a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct, results in injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property.”

A protest, on the other hand, is defined as “a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reacted to the bill passing the house Monday evening, saying the bill would “would dissuade many people from engaging in peaceful and constitutionally protected acts of protest.”

“A better way to address the waves of protests we’ve seen in recent months would be for lawmakers to listen to calls of North Carolinians calling for reforms to address the harm of systemic racism. Creating harsher penalties for our state’s already vague and problematic riot laws does nothing to address the underlying issues that motivate people to protest or engage in civil disobedience. We should listen to the anguish behind the calls of protestors seeking to end systemic racism, not risk representing all constitutionally protected speech and protests as dangerous and criminal. HB 805 is a dangerous idea that undermines the very foundation of participatory democracy,” Daniel Bowes, director of policy and advocacy for the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement.

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