Oklahoma NAACP files federal lawsuit challenging new law protecting drivers who run over protesters

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma NAACP has filed a federal lawsuit challenging HB 1674, which will make it legal to run over protestors if a driver fears for their safety.

The law is set to take effect on Nov 1, 2021, and the NAACP wants to stop that from happening.

The lawsuit is filed against Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

“It violates the First and Fourth Amendment. We’re demanding that it be struck down,” Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma NAACP, said. “It is vague and overbroad.”

They say the vagueness of the bill could subject the NAACP to hefty fines, claiming terms in the bill, like ones about standing in the street and making it inconvenient for drivers, could apply to peaceful protests.

“It’s designed to discourage protests and demonstration, and it criminalizes such activities. Perhaps the worst part of the bill is that none of the terms in the bill are defined, so it’s extremely vague. when you have an open statute, that is open to wild interpretations by law enforcement,” attorney Melvin Hall said.

They also worried the organization could be fined as a “conspirator” for things other people did. 

“Oftentimes when you have a demonstration, third parties who are not affiliated with the organization, not affiliated with the demonstration will come in, and under the cover of the demonstration, vandalize and destroy and cause havoc,” Hall said.

The NAACP is asking that the court declare the law unconstitutional, stop it from going into effect, and cover attorney fees for having to file the lawsuit.

State Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman), one of the bill’s authors, says when it comes to a conspiracy laws, “it doesn’t require a loose affiliation. It requires two or more to conspire to create the harm. That’s a threshold the DA would have to prove. It’s a pretty high threshold.”

Standridge says the law is designed for those who get caught in a riot. He points to an incident in Tulsa where a truck pulling a horse trailer drove through the crowd after protestors assaulted the truck.

“The intent of the bill is to protect those families,” he said.

He also says drivers can’t hurt anyone they want.

“If you’re just there stuck on the freeway, and people are gathering around, you would not get a pass, you would not be able to do prove it was a riot,” he said.

“The court is not going to be concerned with the intent with the bill. They’re going to be concerned with the wording and the actual language that’s contained in the bill,” Hall said.

Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore), the bill’s other author, released the following statement:

“The 1st Amendment among other things, protects the right of the people to peaceably assemble. There is a clear difference between a riot and peaceful assembly. When lawful actions give way to unlawful actions, those unlawful actions are no longer protected under the 1st Amendment. For instance, the ability to trespass on or destroy another’s property is not protected during an otherwise peaceful assembly. The 14th Amendment, among other things, protects the right to life, liberty and property.  Additionally, this Amendment provides all citizens who reside in the United States with equal protection under the law. Just as the right to peaceably assemble is protected, so too should the rights of innocent bystanders to be free from violence against themselves and their property be protected from violent rioters.

House Bill 1674 protects law abiding citizens who find themselves caught in the midst of dangerous and illegal actions at no fault of their own. This law maintains the constitutional right to peaceably assemble while also reinforcing our citizen’s rights to be secure in their life, liberty and property.”

The Attorney General’s Office sent the following statement:

“We will review the lawsuit and plan to vigorously defend the constitutionality of this law.”

KFOR spoke to Prater Monday afternoon, and he said he had not been served and would be happy to comment after getting the official papers.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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