KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From Trump rallies to Black Lives Matter protests the Kansas City metro has been home to dozens of demonstrations over the last few years. Most protests have been non-violent, but in some cases, protesters have been accused of breaking the law.
Missouri State Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville has introduced Senate Bill 66, which would increase penalties for protesters who break laws.
“The way it’s written and the way the law is, it’s equal application to these types of offenders, regardless of your movement,” Brattin said.
The law would allow a property owner or renter to use deadly force if rioters enter or try to enter their property. The bill defines a riot as an unlawful assembly of six or more people gathering to break state or federal laws.
Brad Lemon, president of Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, said this public safety bill will help people exercise their First Amendment rights safely.
“It’s important that we have some laws and some rules out there that, regardless of what you may be protesting, that we know what those rules are,” Lemon said. “Then additionally you would know what the rules are if you’re caught up in one of those protests in a violent encounter.”
The bill would release liabilities of drivers who run over protesters blocking traffic without gross negligence.
“You’ve seen videos where people were driving down the street, and somebody ran in front of a car. The driver clearly wasn’t being negligent, and there has to be a law protecting that individual,” Lemon said.
If passed, the bill would make it a felony to walk, stand, sit, kneel or lay in the road blocking traffic while protesting.
Dr. Vernon Howard, president of Southern Christian Leadership Council, has led several non-violent protests against police brutality in Kansas City.
“If there are laws on the books that impede the justice of Black, brown, poor people and anybody of that matter, then SCLC will continue its tradition of engaging in civil disobedience, which does mean intentionally breaking a law that is immoral and impedes justice,” Howard said.
Howard said he’s concerned this law could violate constitutional rights.
“Any law that is designed to punish protesters who are exercising their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech is a bad law and immoral and flies against the spirit of our American democracy and our principles of protest and dissent,” Howard said.
Brattin said he doesn’t want to violate free speech or stop all protests.
“We need to put a stop to the bad actors. That way people that do have legitimate, you know, protests, their messages aren’t distorted and tainted in that,” he said.
Senate Bill 66 is still in the Judiciary Committee, but Brattin said he’s confident it will get to the floor for a vote during the Missouri Legislature’s current session.