ARIZONA, USA — The Arizona House of Representatives will be hearing the first in a string of what some are calling "anti-protest" bills in committee on Wednesday.
The bill, HB 2485, would allow law enforcement to charge anyone engaging in what officers deem an unlawful assembly, often applied by police during protests, with a class six felony.
Current Arizona law only gives police the power to charge those in an unlawful assembly with a misdemeanor charge.
Felonies often result in longer jail time compared to misdemeanors. Additionally, individuals convicted of a felony in Maricopa County may become prohibited from:
- Obtaining public benefits, such as food stamps and social security benefits
- Serving on a jury
- Being employed by the state, county, city, or town
Multiple organizations around Arizona have said these bills are looking to imprison and punish people for exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful protest, and is a response to the protests against police brutality and systemic racism that happened last summer.
"HB 2485 could allow a person to be charged with a felony simply for participating in a protest, even if they themselves do not commit an act of violence or property damage," the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union said.
Faith leaders in the African American Christian Clergy have also spoken out against the bills. They issued a press release saying this legislation would mainly result in the imprisonment and criminalization of young Black community organizers speaking out against police and policy injustice.
"Several bills introduced at the state Capitol this year have two goals: to strip us of our First Amendment rights and to shut down any attempt to reform police departments for the better," the clergy coalition said.
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