National Guard members are seen as a person flies a Black Lives Matter flag during a rally outside of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Monday, April 19, 2021.
( Julio Cortez
BROOKE GLADSTONE So now it's really spring, and with the change of the seasons come rituals that remind us of what matters in each of our lives. That is when we come to you, except in summer, we don't usually come then to ask for your support, because we matter to you. At least we hope we do. If you've never supported us with a donation in any way, would you? Now? It doesn't matter how much. If you have, would you please do it again? And if you're a sustaining member, would you consider giving a little more? Our show is ongoing, 20 years so far, and so is the need, not just for us, I'm thinking also for you. Our world never ceases to be interesting and challenging. Pandemics, injustice, leaders to be held accountable, entire systems falling in on themselves, riddled with rot that need to change. An ever shifting reality, lots of them, in fact, that cry out to be explored. That's what we do every week, and we need you, really need you to keep going. Want to be part of this weird project called On the Media? Just text OTM to 70101. That's OTM to 70101 or go to onthemedia.org and click on donate. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD And I'm Bob Garfield. For many, this week featured one of those moments where life pauses for a few minutes as we anticipate an outcome, waiting to exhale.
JURY FOREMAN State of Minnesota, county of Hennepin District Court, Fourth Judicial District. State of Minnesota. Plaintiff versus Derek Michael Chauvin, defendant. Verdict. We the jury in the above entitled manner as to count one, unintentional second degree murder while committing a felony, find the defendant guilty. This verdict agreed to this... [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The media duly recorded expressions of joy, relief, a momentary respite from sorrow, loss and outrage.
NEWS REPORT Justice has been served, and you can see the reaction from the crowd, how America feels. [END CLIP].
ANDERSON COOPER The verdict also lifted the sense of impending doom we've all been conditioned by generations of experience to feel each time a jury deliberates. [END CLIP]
NEWS REPORT Playing out as we see it on the streets of this city. Those people who are peacefully protesting feel that justice has been done. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Funny thing about justice. It can't be extrapolated from one rare episode of accountability. And someone should probably tell Nancy Pelosi that sacrifice is not a silver lining for murder. What we collectively witnessed Wednesday was one man being held accountable for one crime. Justice with a capital J, no. When the enemy is institutionalized racism centuries in the making, victories are small, incremental and achingly slow. Wednesday's exhale of relief, it was just one moment. Progress, if any, will be measured from outcomes ahead. So while no pundit can know the effect of Derrick Chauvin's conviction on society, we do know that the consequences of the movement that erupted last summer are now being felt. Millions of people around the world took to the streets in the name of racial justice. The protests were overwhelmingly peaceful, but there were also major episodes of violence, property damage and wanton destruction. And so our national vocabulary was tested. What has taken place? Is it First Amendment protected protest marred by spasms of rage? Or, as the Republican Party insists, are our cities under siege?
NEWS REPORT You see the response from the national Democrats Biden, Schumer and Pelosi, who barely acknowledged the rioting and the looting that's taking. [END CLIP].
NEWS REPORT So the cities are being burned and looted, businesses crippled, and the left wants police departments decimated. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD The burning cities narrative is not new, but if wide public support of Black Lives Matter tells us one thing, actual legislative action offers a grimmer reckoning. Quietly, Republican controlled legislatures around the country have been introducing bills to criminalize protests or, as they put it, to stop the rioting. Tami Abdollah is a national correspondent covering criminal justice for USA Today. Tami, welcome to the show.
TAMI ABDOLLAH Thanks so much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD Let's begin with the status quo. In all these states where these bills that are under consideration, it's already illegal for rioters to injure police and civilians. It's illegal to damage property, illegal to commit arson, illegal to loot retail businesses. What's supposed to be gained by these redundant statutes
TAMI ABDOLLAH They up the penalties that rioters may face. They bring it up from a misdemeanor to a felony. They bring it from like a citation to a misdemeanor. They also expand what is considered behavior included in that rioting. It adds in things like taunting police or throwing an object, or even potentially the intent to throw something, whether or not you've actually hit a person as part of the rioting statute.
BOB GARFIELD Much of the attention is on Florida. What does the law that Governor DeSantis signed provide?
TAMI ABDOLLAH There are several aspects. One, it expands and really revises the definition of what is considered a riot. Making it, you know, a gathering of three or more people who are collectively intending to engage in, quote unquote, disorderly conduct and participate in, quote unquote, a violent public disturbance that ends in property damage, injury or and this is the key part, a danger of either of those things. It's really rather subjective as to what danger of creating injury or property damage might mean when you talk about a group of three people gathered together on the sidewalk or street. It also adds even tougher penalties for mob intimidation, quote, inciting a riot and defacing, damaging or destroying a monument. That language is specifically geared toward protecting the Confederate statues that are scattered throughout the state.
BOB GARFIELD So if I am in a cluster of three or more people and someone from that cluster throws a Molotov cocktail, or throws a rock at a cop, I am subject to be considered part of this three person plus conspiracy to commit mayhem?
TAMI ABDOLLAH Yeah, so that is what critics have a real problem with, that it sort of clumps people together and really leaves it up to the officer on the street to determine whether or not you are part of a collective. Whether or not you're included in this, and I don't even think it needs to be a Molotov cocktail. It could be a plastic bottle. You throw in a trashcan to the side of the officers and you miss. It's up to them to decide whether or not there was an effort to cause them injury or perhaps cause property damage. So it really can be rather subjective.
BOB GARFIELD There's similar legislation in the hopper in Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota. Are all these proposed laws using the same kinds of broad language?
TAMI ABDOLLAH There's a lot of it. There are tons of these bills that they want to become laws or have become laws that give drivers, for example, legal protections. Civil immunity if they unintentionally hit a protester. In Oklahoma. The language is, if you're, quote unquote, fleeing a riot and you untentionally hit a protester, then you are given legal protection. In other places, the language is a little more broad. That's notable because last summer there were more than one hundred incidents in which people drove their cars into a crowd of demonstrators just to like pull back for a second. We're talking about 93 similar bills that have been proposed in 35 states since George Floyd died in Minneapolis. Most of those bills have been introduced in Republican controlled legislatures, first and foremost. And, you know, they may or may not pass, but the political climate really favors them in places like Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and, of course, Oklahoma, where, you know, we saw it already pass.
BOB GARFIELD Red states, not to put too fine a point on it.
TAMI ABDOLLAH Yes. I mean, there has been legislation introduced in New Jersey and in New York. So, you know, there's that.
BOB GARFIELD OK, so passing bills and getting them signed into law is one thing. Sanding off the rough edges of the First Amendment, though, is not likely to go unnoticed in courts. It is hard to imagine these laws not facing court challenges at the earliest opportunity. And even with the current state of the Supreme Court surviving those court challenges. What should we expect?
TAMI ABDOLLAH I believe once we see these laws enacted in more places and as you know, the next protests, Black Lives Matter protests or any other protests out there, once those occur, I think we will see that arrests under these statutes will be challenged. The folks I spoke with indicated that that for certain is the case. But, you know, they can't say for sure since nothing has yet happened. You know, the verdict in the George Floyd case was potentially going to be a way to test these laws and challenge them as well. But given the verdict, we've not yet been able to see how things will work out.
BOB GARFIELD What has historically triggered so much violence has been miscarriages of justice. The Watts riots began because of a traffic stop that ended in police brutality, scarcely need to discuss George Floyd's case. And as a consequence, most of the civil protest has been dominated by African-American protesters, certainly not exclusively, but is this a protesting while Black set of laws?
TAMI ABDOLLAH Critics would say possibly, yes. Because as we all know, there's implicit bias. And because these laws and the bills that are trying to be passed include this vague language, it provides a lot of room for that bias to rise up and show. Now, one thing is notable when you talk about this history of primarily black communities rising up in response to what they view are problematic actions against their civil rights, that has been a very different case this past year. And it was noted to me by multiple folks I spoke with: civil rights attorneys, sociologists, that last summer was historic for a number of reasons. Not only may it have been the largest protest movement in U.S. history with 15 to 26 million people showing up and marching. But it was also the largest and most diverse group of protesters. Some communities primarily had white people protesting, which is not apparent in other civil rights protests and criminal justice reform marches as well.
BOB GARFIELD Tami, thank you so much.
TAMI ABDOLLAH Yeah, well, thank you. I really appreciate it.
BOB GARFIELD Tammy Abdollah is a national correspondent covering criminal justice for USA Today.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Coming up, let's get some distance. How about the view from 173 million miles?
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