This summer, we saw Black Lives Matter protests across the state of Indiana, calling for an end to police brutality. And although the majority of these protests were peaceful, they were met by police with teargas and projectiles, ultimately leading to three ACLU of Indiana lawsuits.
Despite this pattern, Indiana legislators are seizing this opportunity to attempt to pass legislation that would further chill Hoosiers’ free speech.
Several pieces of legislation, including SB 34, SB 96, SB 198, and HB 1205, have been introduced as “anti-riot” bills. These bills would broadly expand "rioting" laws in Indiana and establish additional penalties regarding protests.
There are already laws on the books that address offenses such as destruction of property in Indiana, and with these additional penalties regarding protests, Indiana runs the risk of limiting the First Amendment rights of many because of the actions of a few.
The right to protest is critical to a functioning democracy, as it allows the people to hold government accountable. Over the last four years, we have seen similar anti-protest bills to the ones legislators are now trying to rebrand. These are overactions and will inevitably be used against marginalized communities.
In 2019, the Indiana legislature passed a bill, which was part of a nationwide push by special interest groups working to suppress free speech. That legislation aimed to squash legitimate challenges to corporate actions and policies, by high profile and effective campaigns such as the Black Lives Matter movement and the Standing Rock protest against oil and gas pipelines.
The bills we are seeing this year are no different. SB 198 would chill Hoosiers’ free speech under the guise of an “anti-riot” bill and remove power from communities on multiple fronts. The bill would enhance criminal penalties for rioting, obstruction of traffic, and curfew violations, and it would discourage release on bail in some instances for charges during what the law defines broadly as an “unlawful assembly.”
These continued attacks on free speech target dissenting voices and will undoubtedly chill free speech for all Hoosiers, but will disproportionately harm Black and Brown communities. We will not stand for efforts to paint protesters as criminals.