Three bills making their way through the Capitol look to curb violent riots, but some free speech advocates are sounding the alarms.
These bills would legally define a riot as an assembly of three or more people that are deemed a public disturbance, which include acts of violence and property damage. Anyone found guilty of rioting could be convicted of a Class 1 felony.
Republican Representative and former law enforcement officer John Spiros authored the bill. He says that as a former law enforcement officer, his number one priority is the safety of citizens living in the neighborhoods where riots take place, as well as the safety of riot participants. “Our goal should be to make sure everyone goes home safely at the end of the night and addressing a problem like rioting, which has grown more and more prevalent in the last few years is a big step in the right direction.” He cites the Sherman Park riots in Milwaukee last year as a source of his concern.
Some are concerned about the bills’ potential to punish protesters that aren’t rioting, and in doing so limit free speech. Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matthew Rothschild, worries about the implications for protesters. He also points to the bills’ lack of constitutionality. One of the three bills would add charges to anyone carrying a weapon in a riot, even if the weapon wasn’t used. Rothschild says, “It’s ironic because the NRA has been behind every law that has been introduced to loosen the regulations on the right to bear arms, and I don’t know that the NRA is opposing [these bills].”
Spiros said during the public hearing on the bills last week that he is open to hearing Democrats’ concerns and amending the bills.
Nina Kravinsky has the story.
Photo Credit: Jamelle Bouie via Creative Commons License