The North Carolina Senate approved a bill this week that would raise the stakes for those who engage in a riot that results in damage or injury.
A person could face criminal charges and jail time if the rioter causes damage to property, or assaults a citizen or emergency personnel, during a protest or a state of emergency.
The bill has been returned to the House where, if concurred, it will then go to the office of Gov. Roy Cooper to be signed, or vetoed.
Republican House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a press release that he had witnessed “the violence and destruction caused by rioters right here in downtown Raleigh” in 2020.
“What this bill does is enforce harsher penalties for the perpetrators of violence and looting, while preserving every North Carolinian’s right to protest peacefully,” Moore said. “Our rights to free speech and assembly are precious and must be preserved, but never at the expense of harm to others. House Bill 805 simply ensures the safety of our citizens while upholding their rights to free speech and assembly.”
House Bill 805 defines a riot as “a public disturbance involving an assemblage of three or more persons, which by disorderly and violent conduct, or the imminent threat of disorderly and violent conduct,” which results in “injury or damage to persons or property or creates a clear and present danger of injury or damage to persons or property.”
A person can be charged with a misdemeanor, or a felony, depending on if weapons are used, and the severity of damage and harm.
Felony charges can be handed down if damages in excess of $1,500, serious bodily harm, or death, have resulted from the actions of the rioter.
During the floor debate, state Senator Danny Britt said the bill is written to keep cities and properties safe while protecting the First Amendment freedom to protest peacefully.
The bill passed the Senate with a 25-19 vote, split along party lines.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called House Bill 805 “harmful,” adding that it “would dissuade many people from engaging in peaceful and constitutionally protected acts of protests.”
“If passed, law enforcement could use this legislation to punish people for exercising their right to protest by stacking charges against peaceful protesters,” the ACLU stated.
The bill is retaliation, the ACLU alleged, against the “uprising for racial justice” that happened in 2020 when an outbreak of violence started in May at the time of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who had been arrested.
The May 25 arrest was filmed, and in the video, Floyd, 46, said he couldn’t breathe as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was witnessed kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for air.
Floyd was pronounced dead an hour after the incident.
It was later reported that both Floyd and Chauvin worked security at a Minneapolis nightclub called El Nuevo Rodeo, where David Pinney, a former employee, said that Floyd and Chauvin knew each other and had “bumped heads.”
Pinney later recanted this statement, however, former club owner Maya Santamaria, said Floyd and Chauvin would have “likely come in contact with each other while working.”
Chauvin was convicted of state murder charges in April 2021.
Cost to the Communities
According to a September 2020 report (pdf) from the Raleigh Police Department, May 30 through June 7 became a week of peaceful protest that devolved into acts of violence and destroyed property.
The September 2020 “After Action Report” from the Raleigh Police Chief stated that the “subsequent mobilization and response of the Raleigh Police Department’s Mobile Field Force was unlike any in Raleigh’s history.”
According to data gathered by The North State Journal, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) reported that protests in nine locations around the state cost taxpayers $304,695.
By June 1, 2020, a price tag on manpower and gas, with 581.5 hours worked, was estimated at $19,925 in Buncombe County in Asheville, the Journal reported.
The riots corresponded with the “Defund the Police” movement, which, according to Brandon McGaha with the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, was supported by the Asheville City Council. The situation has left the Asheville Police Department—as well as many other departments in the country—struggling with recruitment and dealing with “officers who are leaving in droves,” McGaha told The Epoch Times.
In July 2020, the Triangle Business Journal reported that statewide insurance claims were over $10 million.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.