As more and more protesters take to the streets to voice their displeasure with things from tax reform to women’s rights to immigration policy, states and local governments find themselves scraping together money for the extra expenses that protests incur. From additional police coverage to having riot police on call to first-responders and medics to the court fees down the road, protests can prove costly, especially when they turn violent. Statues are toppled, windows are smashed, graffiti blankets walls, and other damage occurs to public property.
Some states and cities are in the process of drafting ordinances and laws that will make it the responsibility of protesters to cover all the damages that result from their demonstration, from the additional police coverage to the actual repairs that need to be done to city property
Proponents of such legislation note that no citizen supports unfettered property damage and that such laws will force picketers and activists to reign in the unwieldy members of their groups. In the end, the supporters note, everyone wants the same thing — for everyone to be safe and for state property to remain intact. To them, this law will protect everyone and force people to take responsibility for their behavior. Especially for states with tight budgets and little wiggle room, passing off these costs to the parties responsible will deter them from getting out of hand and keep taxes from going up. Many have specifically cited the protests that took place to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which resulted in multiple millions of dollars in cleanup and response, from trash collection to the injured citizenry.
Naturally, though, there is heavy opposition to this law on a number of fronts, from civil liberties to the mechanisms of assigning costs to individuals.
First, of course, is the first amendment issue. The right to gather peacefully and the tool of protesting has long been fundamental to the American experience. From the very first American revolution to the ladies who picketed for the passage of the 19th amendment to those who marched with Dr. King for the VRA, protest against the government is an important means by which to spread a message and push for changes in the government. As written, the first amendment doesn’t “give” people the right to free speech and peaceful assembly — rather, it prohibits the government from taking away rights that are intrinsic to everyone.
Moreover, some are afraid that such laws will incentivize the state and first responders to apprehend more protesters in order to be able to bill them for the costs. Since the laws in their present forms fail to specify how costs will be distributed among demonstrators who are apprehended, the ACLU and other organizations opposing the legislation are nervous that more people will be arrested and charged with the end goal of reducing the burden on the state.
Laws that put a damper on protests will be up against considerable opposition, but a core base that wants to quell the gatherings that lead to property damage and unnecessary expenditures of tax dollars.