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Oklahoma NAACP Files Lawsuit To Overturn State Law Cracking Down On Protesters

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Oklahoma is being taken to court over another law passed in the last legislative session.

The Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP is suing in federal court seeking to have House Bill 1674 overturned. Set to take effect Nov. 1, the law increases criminal penalties for protesters and would institute steep fines for organizations deemed to be involved in demonstrations that break state laws around rioting and unlawful assembly.

Oklahoma City attorney Melvin Hall said the law is vague, leaving it open to broad interpretation by law enforcement officers who will enforce it on the ground, and that violates Oklahomans’ constitutional rights.

"No one wants to be arrested, and if there's that potentiality, then there's a chilling effect and a discouragement on people showing up to exercise their First Amendment rights. That's the design of the law, that's the purpose of the law, it's clearly drafted that way," Hall said.

The law also grants immunity to drivers who hit protesters under certain circumstances. The bill's supporters have often referred to an incident in Tulsa last summer, where a man drove a pickup truck through a crowd gathered on I-244 while protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several people were injured, including one who was paralyzed from the waist down after falling from an overpass, but the driver was not charged.

Republican lawmakers passed HB1674 in the first legislative session after last summer’s protests over police violence against Black Americans. Oklahoma NAACP President Anthony Douglas said the organization and its members will continue hold demonstrations.

"No matter what the bill says, we're not going to allow you to define us as rioters. You can't just make — because we're African American and Black and the Native American, our counterpart — as rioters. And so, the language of this bill, Oklahoma legislators should be ashamed of themselves for even putting a bill out there," Douglas said.

The lawsuit was filed by the Georgetown University Law Center Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection. It names Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater as defendants.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office said they will review the lawsuit and "plan to vigorously defend the constitutionality of this law."

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