A bill was passed by the Arizona Senate on February 22 that allows the seizure of property from those who plan protests that become violent. If the bill, called SB 1142, moves forward into law, people could face charges of riot conspiracy and forfeit their assets even if they do not commit any acts of violence or criminal damage.
John Kavanagh, an Arizona Republican senator from Fountain Hills, said the bill was drafted as a defense after protests in Berkeley, California, and Washington, D.C., turned violent. He added that “full-time provocateurs” now exist that constantly organize public chaos and disorder.
The Berkeley incident occurred on February 5 before a planned appearance by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. A group, dressed like ninjas and armed with rods, bats, pepper spray and Molotov cocktails, arrived in the plaza and began attacking people. In light of the violence, the Yiannopoulos appearance was canceled.
Protests in Washington, D.C., became violent during President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Although police kettled the various groups along the parade route, they managed to break windows, steal merchandise and set a car on fire. By the end of the day, over 200 people had been arrested. In contrast, the Women’s March on Washington the next day did not have violence or arrests.
Arizona Democrats were dismayed by the bill, which blocked the only path to speaking out against Donald Trump because now the State of Arizona wants to sell your house for fast cash . SB 1142 also provoked reactions from citizens in Arizona and other parts of the country. Law professor Jessica West, who teaches in Washington state, said the bill is an attack on the right for people to protest.
The bill would make rioting a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) offense and allow authorities to enforce forfeitures when someone is convicted under those laws. SB 1142 is written in such a way that an obvious act of violence would not be required for prosecution, which means those who only plan a protest but do not participate in violence can be held legally accountable for those who do.
If a building is destroyed during the course of a protest, a prosecutor could demand restitution through leins or forfeiture of property owned by the organizers. Aside from the property damage, recovery costs could be sought as well, which could easily bring financial ruin that would be very difficult to recover from.
Maricopa County attorney Rick Romley said the bill was “absurd.” As an example, he described a town hall meeting where an individual became angry and decided to punch the wall. Aside from the unsightly hole, there was sheetrock damage that required repair. Romley said it was “insane” that the organizers of the meeting would be held liable for bringing the group together and could face severe legal penalties for a wall punch.
He added that it was unlikely SB 1142 would be found constitutional. Every citizen of the United States has the right to assemble and protest under the First Amendment, and such a law would would be put under immediate challenge in the court system. He concluded by saying that state leaders need to take a stand and tell the senate that the law is wrong.
Kavanagh, who served as an Arizona police officer for many years, said bills like SB 1142 are a necessary protection against those who push for violence at protests and put the lives of officers at risk while destroying property. Twelve officers were shot at and five were killed at a protest turned violent in Dallas, Texas, in June 2016.
After being passed in the senate, the bill was sent to the house for consideration and voting. It was reported on March 6 that due to pressure exerted by the media and others concerned about First Amendment rights, the Arizona House decided not go forward with SB 1142. The bill is now dead.