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Demonstrators in Arizona, such as these workers striking for higher wages at a Walmart in Phoenix, could face racketeering charges and asset forfeiture under the law passed by the state senate. (Photo: Deanna Dent/UFCW International Union/flickr/cc)

New Law Would Let Arizona Treat Organized Dissent as Organized Crime

The Republican-dominated Arizona Senate voted to expand racketeering laws to include protesters and protest organizers, meaning police could arrest demonstrators and seize their assets

Nika Knight Beauchamp

The Arizona Senate on Wednesday voted to expand racketeering laws to allow police to arrest anyone involved in a protest and seize their assets, treating demonstrators like organized criminals.

The law, SB 1142, also expands the definition of a riot to include any damage to property, and allows police to make arrests when they suspect a protest will turn violent—even before it actually has.

The Arizona Capital Times explains:

[T]he real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association—and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated. And what's worse, said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, is that the person who may have broken a window, triggering the claim there was a riot, might actually not be a member of the group but someone from the other side.

"This is a total perversion of the RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] process, the racketeering process, and I see major Constitutional issues down the line," Farley told the Associated Press. "I don't think this is going to do anything but get us into more lawsuits."

The chilling of First Amendment rights in Arizona comes as Republican-dominated state legislatures push a wave of anti-protest legislation nationwide.

While voting for the law, state senators used the justification that protesters upset with the Trump administration's agenda are paid provocateurs, a conspiracy theory often touted by President Donald Trump and other right-wingers.

"You now have a situation where you have full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder," Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican, told the Arizona Capitol Times. "A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists. But this stuff is all planned."

Moreover, by including protesters under racketeering laws, the police would be empowered to arrest organizers in the planning stages of an event. "Wouldn't you rather stop a riot before it starts?" Kavanagh, a former police officer, asked the senate during a floor debate.

Will Gaona, policy director for the ACLU of Arizona, noted that the states' police unions pushed for the bill:

"I'm fearful that 'riot' is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard," Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, a Democrat from Green Valley, told the Capitol Times.

SB 1142 is now headed to the Arizona House for a vote.


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