Yesterday the state Senate passed three of four of the “protest bills” introduced in reaction to the #NoDAPL rioting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. One of those bills made it illegal to wear a mask while committing a crime, while another increased the consequences for illegal protest activities. A third allows law enforcement to cite trespassing as they would, say, a speeding ticket.
All of these bills originated in the House where they’ve already been approved. A fourth bill to make it illegal to cause economic harm while committing a misdemeanor crime, which has also been approved by the House, has not yet been taken up by the Senate.
These bills are a manifestation of the legislature’s rightful concerns about protecting the North Dakota from further acts of political extremism, but I’m not sure any of them really get to the heart of the matter.
The #NoDAPL activists blocked roads, disrupted commerce, trespassed, and vandalized all while stating explicitly all over social media that their goal was to create as much expense and economic harm for North Dakotans as possible.
What North Dakota lawmakers should have done is emulate a Minnesota law which would “allow government entities to sue individuals for public safety costs accrued from instances that lead to unlawful assembly or public nuisance convictions.”
Minnesota has struggled struggled with its own extremist political movement. The #BlackLivesMatter activists have routinely used public disruption and violence to spread their political message and no small cost to the taxpayers of Minnesota. The author of the legislation, Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River), points out that BLM protests in the Twin Cities have cost local governments some $2.5 million.
Here in North Dakota the cost of the state #NoDAPL response is at nearly $33 million and counting.
Raising fines for illegal protest activity is all well and good, but holding people who organize and perpetrate illegal protests financially liable for the mayhem they cause is a better way to address the problem.
Opponents of the legislation are, of course, claiming that it intends to silence protest. But illegal protests are, you know, illegal.
Why should the taxpayers have to pick up the tab for protesters who block a highway? The whole point of that tactic is to lure law enforcement into conflict which can, in turn, be exploited for propaganda purposes. It’s costly and, more importantly, dangerous for all involved.
Those who use the tactic should be held responsible, but using the criminal code to address the situation can be tricky. Allowing for a civil remedy, on the other hand, makes much more sense.