Citing an ABC15 investigation into botched protest prosecutions, Valley branches of the NAACP are condemning a bill that would give law enforcement more discretion and power to punish demonstrators.
In a press release, the civil rights organizations urged Arizonans to contact their state senators and Governor Doug Ducey to demand that they reject HB2309.
“This disturbing, disgusting attempt to imprison Arizonans who peacefully protest the wholly disproportionate incidences of police brutality and racial injustice towards People of Color is abhorrent,” the release stated.
HB2309 would create a new felony criminal offense called “violent or disorderly assembly.”
In addition to allowing police and prosecutors to charge anyone at the protest, the bill would also take several misdemeanor crimes — like obstructing a thoroughfare — and make them felonies if they were committed during a protest that police designate as violent or disorderly.
Critics also said police could charge everyone present with a crime whether they were involved in criminal activity or not.
In attacking the bill, the NAACP branches cited ABC15’s “Politically Charged” investigation to highlight why local police and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office should not be trusted with the expanded power.
Specifically, the organizations brought up a report about Phoenix protest response officers owning, sharing and selling challenge coins that celebrated violence against a protester. The coins also had language tied to hate speech.
HB2309 has already passed through the House of Representatives. It requires a full vote in the Senate before it is sent to Governor Doug Ducey’s desk.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Bret Roberts, who explained the intent of his bill to fellow lawmakers during a recent hearing.
“This bill is intended to give those individuals that choose to partake in what’s supposed to be a peaceful protest, and give them a moment of pause and ask themselves, ‘Do I want to attend this event?’” Roberts said during a recent committee hearing. “I need to ask myself, ’Is there the potential that this could go awry and people’s lives and property could be in jeopardy?’ That’s the intent of the bill.”
First Amendment attorneys and defense lawyers said a bill meant to dissuade people from assembling and protesting is clearly unconstitutional.
Editor’s note: This report is part of an ongoing series of ABC15 investigative reports called “Politically Charged.” The series can be found at ABC15.com/protests. Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.