Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A car driven by a white supremacist plows into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017. The attack killed 32-year-old anti-racism protester Heather Heyer. (Photo: Ryan Kelly/The Daily Progress/WikiMedia Commons)

A car driven by a white supremacist plows into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017. The attack killed 32-year-old anti-racism protester Heather Heyer. (Photo: Ryan Kelly/The Daily Progress/WikiMedia Commons)

'The OK Legislature Wants Us Dead': Rights Defenders Decry Advancement of Anti-Protest Bills

The head of the state's ACLU accused Oklahoma lawmakers of "attempting to silence the voices of their constituents and criminalize vital calls for accountability and racial justice."

Brett Wilkins

Dismissing warnings from civil liberties defenders, the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday approved a pair of bills the state's ACLU said would "chill dissent, and silence and criminalize Oklahomans who want to exercise our First Amendment right to peacefully protest."

 "The foundation of this bill is to keep institutional racism alive."
—State Sen. George Young 

Tulsa Public Radio reports the state Senate passed H.B. 1674 (pdf) by a largely party-line vote of 38-10. If signed by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, the measure will grant civil and criminal immunity to drivers who "unintentionally" kill or injure people while "fleeing from a riot" if they have "reasonable belief" that doing so will protect them from harm. 

Additionally, the proposed legislation would punish protesters who block traffic with up to a year behind bars and a $5,000 fine.

H.B. 1643 (pdf)—which criminalizes the online sharing of identifying information about police or public officials "with the intent to threaten, intimidate, or harass" them—was also approved by the state's upper chamber in a 39-8 vote. 

Arguing in favor of H.B. 1674 ahead of the vote, state Sen. Rob Standridge (R-15) repeatedly referred to a May 2020 incident in which a pickup truck driver towing a horse trailer plowed through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, injuring numerous people including a man who was paralyzed. The driver, who claimed he feared for his life, was not charged.

"This bill will protect innocent people trapped by a rioting mob," said Standridge. "Why would we wait for somebody that's fearing for their life to be charged by a DA that wants to make a political case of something? We see this around the country. We don't need it here. So, let's just put it on the books." 

State Sen. Kevin Matthews (D-11), who is Black, objected to the frequent use of the word "riot" in the bill and by his GOP colleagues. Matthews noted that similar language is often used to describe the infamous 1921 massacre of Black people in his hometown of Tulsa. 

"Let me give you some context," said Matthews, who leads the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. "In my community, people were bombed from the air. People had cannons shot into our churches. Some accounts, 300 people dead and businesses burned down. And it was said that my people were 'rioting.'" 

Matthews added that "it's not cute and it's not cool that we're trying to address what happened across America in passing every piece of legislation to keep people from protesting when African Americans are killed unarmed."

Another Black lawmaker, state Sen. George Young (D-48), said that "the foundation of this bill is to keep institutional racism alive. Many of you may not agree with that, but you got to look at it beyond your own positions and look at it through the eyes of others who this type of legislation would impact."

Critics of the bills including civil rights campaigners warned that the measures further endanger Black lives. Some pointed to the more than 100 incidents in just over three months last year in which drivers—both civilian and police—struck people at racial justice protests following the Minneapolis police killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd.

Others recalled Heather Heyer—a white woman who was killed in August 2017 when a white supremacist ran her over while she protested against the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virgina.

Jess Eddy, an anti-racism campaigner, told The Oklahoman that "those of us who have been organizing protests in the streets—what the United States Supreme Court has protected and established as one of the most sacred free speech forums—will now have to take extraordinary and dangerous measures to protect ourselves and our rights in Oklahoma."

The ACLU of Oklahoma condemned both of the bills, with the civil liberties group's executive director, Tamya Cox-Touré, asserting in a statement that "the Oklahoma Legislature is attempting to silence the voices of their constituents and criminalize vital calls for accountability and racial justice."

"What is unbecoming is the fact that these anti-freedom policies are passed with a veil over their true intentions—to chill speech, criminalize accountability, and let us all know that a majority of the legislature cares more about protecting the deadly power of the state than they do about rights and liberties, or even public safety."

H.B. 1674 is one of many anti-protest measures that have been recently passed or proposed in more than a dozen states. Bills granting immunity to motorists who strike protesters under certain circumstances have been introduced in numerous states.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'This Cannot Happen': Biden DHS Seeks Contractor for Migrant Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay

The solicitation for bids—which requires some guards who speak Spanish and Haitian Creole—comes as the administration is under fire for mass deportations of migrants, including thousands of Haitians.

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Vaccine Goals 'Fall Terribly Short' Due to Big Pharma and Rich Nations' Greed: Experts

"Wealthy nations are using up the world's vaccine supply, and developing nations are suffering and losing thousands of people every day."

Brett Wilkins ·


11 Senators Support House Progressives' Push to Pass Full Biden Agenda

"We voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the clear commitment that the two pieces of the package would move together along a dual track."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ex-Prisoners Recall US Torture at 'Afghanistan's Abu Ghraib'

"It is psychologically hard for me to recall all that was happening," said one former Bagram Air Base inmate. "The torture was mostly done by Afghans, sometimes the Americans. But the orders came from the U.S."

Brett Wilkins ·


Rapid Shift to Electric Vehicles Could Create Over 150,000 Jobs in US by 2030

A new report says "smart" pro-labor policies by lawmakers would transform the "inevitable" shift to EVs "into a new beginning for U.S. producers and the rebuilding of a foundation for good jobs."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo