OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Court of Criminal appeals has weighed in on the anti-riot law, House Bill 1674, born out of protests over racial injustice following the death of George Floyd in 2020. Many activists felt the bill was meant to prevent protesters from being heard.
The issue was with two parts of the law, organizations and activists felt were vague and violated first amendment rights, even calling the legislation a scare tactic to keep Oklahomans from peacefully protesting.
Adriana Laws was shocked when she first heard about the bill.
“I thought it was absolutely egregious,” said Laws, a community change leader. “I believe that every American, every Oklahoman has a constitutional right to protest in the streets.
Jess Eddy has organized dozens of protests across Oklahoma City and he had the same reaction to the bill.
“We can all understand in America that freedom of speech needs to be protected,” said Eddy, a community organizer.
The two parts of the law being challenged prompted the NAACP and other organizations, like ICAP, to challenge the legislation. It was finally sent to Oklahoman’s Court of Criminal Appeals who issued an opinion Thursday.
The first part of the law under question was the vague wording to hold organizations of a protest criminally responsible if someone started a riot.
“That’s not a problem with the NAACP because they don’t conspire to commit riot,” said Mary McCord, executive director of ICAP.
The second questioned whether people could protest in the streets or approach vehicles.
“The way it was written it wasn’t at all clear,” said McCord.
Under the decision by Oklahoma’s highest criminal appeals court, the bill would only refer to those situations that happened during a riot, not a peaceful protest, meaning protests in Oklahoma can continue.
“The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has now interpreted the statute narrowly in a way that no longer causes the concerns that the NAACP and organization had about chilling free speech,” said McCord.
This is one of those rare situations where both sides got what they wanted. Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor issued a petition to the 10th Circuit Court to narrow down the bill, which was also what organizations wanted.
His press secretary, Madelyn Hague, issued this statement following the court’s opinion:
“Attorney General John O’Connor is pleased that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with his office about the correct interpretation of Oklahoma’s newest law opposing certain conduct which may occur during a riot. Oklahomans remember when a protest in Tulsa spilled onto the interstate highway exposing families traveling the roadway to danger and rioters to injury. The Legislature crafted this law to protect both free speech and public safety. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decision answers questions posed by the Tenth Circuit. The Attorney General will work to ensure that this ruling leads to the lifting of the injunction that is currently in place in federal court—an injunction that was based on the faulty interpretation of the Oklahoma law.”Madelyn Hague