Only Republicans would encourage running over demonstrators by indemnifying and pitting RWNJs and their vehicles against peaceful crowds. Because who knew that the “unintentional” weaponizing of personal vehicles was possible when pretending you’re driving a Tesla into a crowd of demonstrators.
In 2020, … “72 incidents of cars driving into protesters across 52 different cities,” over the span of just over a month. The online far right memed about running over demonstrators regularly, and cops openly encouraged it in social media comments.
Earlier this week, Florida Republicans enacted a law they claimed would prevent riots in the state. Its real purpose, of course, was to discourage protesting and punish demonstrators. One of the bill’s provisions has received a fair amount of national attention, as it seems to give Floridians permission to attack protesters with their cars. The bill doesn’t exactly make it legal to run someone over, but it does shield drivers from civil liability if they injure or kill protesters on Florida roads.
In isolation, it’s hard to understand the purpose of such a curious provision. What problem does it solve? As the Florida American Civil Liberties Union pointed out, very few recent protests in the state involved violence or even vandalism, and police and prosecutors were already well equipped (some would say, more than well equipped) to handle whatever rioting might occur. If demonstrators blocking roads and snarling up traffic were a serious problem in Florida in need of a legislative remedy, surely thoughtful legislators could come up with a more effective or ethical response than making it less personally risky for people to injure or kill those demonstrators with cars. But efficacy and ethics don’t really seem to be guiding the decisions of Republican-run state legislatures lately.
To understand what’s really behind the bill, recall that it comes less than four years after a 20-year-old neo-Nazi named James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately drove a Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people counterprotesting the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields injured scores of people and killed a woman named Heather Heyer. The obvious and immediate response to this intentional attack was nearly universal shock and horror. Fields was charged with murder and convicted. But since just before that attack, and even more so after it, Republican elected officials across the country have been trying to make it easier for certain people to run over certain other people.
The state Senate passed the Republican-sponsored legislation 38-10 last week. The bill makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine for anyone who obstructs a public street during the course of a protest, according to the legislation. House Bill 1674 also states that drivers cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for killing or injuring a protestor if they are “fleeing from a riot,” and there is “reasonable belief” that they are in danger.