The current political climate, as well as a number of controversial events, have encouraged groups of different origins and ideologies to take full advantage of their constitutional right to peacefully protest. A large influx of protests, both large and small, have broken out across the nation over the course of the past decade, thickening tensions between those who claim protesting is effective and those who claim it is an inconvenience. Legislators in several states have drafted laws centered around the act of protesting that undoubtedly contains serious implications.
North Carolina was one out of a handful of states that passed hotly contested protest-related legislation. The bill, known as House Bill 330, offers protection for drivers who unintentionally strike protestors. If the bill is enacted into law, drivers accused of hitting and possibly injuring or killing a protester could be exempt from civil liability and criminal charges as long as they were “exercising due care” and not in the commission of a “willful and “wanton” act while physically navigating a vehicle. The original text of the bill does not expound on or define what these terms actually mean.
Since the bill's passing in April, it has drawn a great deal of both praise and criticism. Supporters of the bill claim that it is not intended to incite violence, but to protect motorists who must drive through waves of protesters or who encounter blocked off streets. Critics of the bill assert that it's the state's stealthy method to weaken free speech rights of people who take part in protests. The American Civil Liberties Union coined the term, the “hit and kill” bill to describe their stance on the issue.
However, an abundance of people, along with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, had a change of heart regarding the bill after last weekend's tragic events. Many watched the news in horror as they witnessed self-described white nationalist James Alex Fields, in Virginia, plunge into a group of counter protesters in Charlottesville, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other people. This rally and its violent and deadly events took the nation by storm. Many North Carolina residents questioned whether the bill would have protected Fields, while creators of the bill vehemently argue that it would not have.
Despite what could have happened, state legislators have decided to shelve the bill, assuring residents that they have “no plans to move it forward.” Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement vowing to veto the bill under any circumstances. It is safe to say, that due to recent events, it will not be enacted into law anytime soon, if ever.
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