Whilst a handful of Oklahomans were probably sleeping in the early hours of Wednesday, Republican lawmakers in the state’s House passed a bill that would protect drivers who knock down protesters.
Per House Bill 1674, drivers in the state who hurt or kill protesters without malice while “fleeing from a riot” are immune from both civil and criminal prosecution, The Oklahoman reported. This bill reportedly adds to other Republican-backed legislations that are tailored at clamping down on protests in the state.
The legislation, which was reportedly approved after midnight, comes in the wake of the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in the United States over the summer following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. During that period, there were a number of reports of people plowing their cars into crowds of protesters who had taken over the streets.
In the city of Tulsa, a man drove his pickup into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters who had gathered on a street, seriously injuring multiple people. The driver in question was not charged by the Tulsa County district attorney as the former claimed his vehicle was attacked, The Oklahoman reported.
The recent bill was, however, criticized by legislative Democrats who accused their Republican counterparts of unfairly targeting protesters instead of rather addressing their grievances in what has been a period of racial reckoning in the United States. Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, also called out the Republican majority for deliberately passing the bill in the wee hours of the day to ward off public opinion.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Monroe Nichols, told the house the bill rather missed the bigger picture – that is introducing reform to address what the protests have been about, The Oklahoman reported. “Maybe the way to prevent something like this [the Tulsa incident] from ever happening again is to make reforms on the broader systemic issue,” Nichols said, adding that he’ll have a hard time having to tell his pre-teen son that the Oklahoma House “made it so that folks who may advocate for people who look like him can be run over with immunity.”
The approved legislation by the house will subsequently be tabled before the Senate – which is also Republican-majority. Besides the immunity to drivers, the bill also proposes misdemeanor charges for protesters who “unlawfully obstruct” vehicular traffic.