Civil Rights Groups, Activists Closely Watching Bills To Restrict Protesting In Oklahoma

Mar 17, 2021

Young Democrats of America President Joshua Harris-Till, Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association President Shawna Mott-Wright, human rights lawyer Abby Henderson, activist Scot Godfrey and Dream Action Oklahoma Executive Director Brenda Lozano participate in a virtual town hall on state legislation to restrict protests.

Civil rights groups and activists say Oklahoma is not alone in considering a flurry of anti-protest legislation after protests last year over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

"However, Oklahoma has the most anti-protest, anti-speech, anti-freedom bills — has one of the most anti-protest bills across the country," ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director Tamya Cox-Touré said during a virtual town hall hosted by the Black Wall Street Times.

There are measures to require permits for protests at the capitol, make it a crime to share a wide range of officials’ personal information or block streets, protect motorists who hit protesters, and use racketeering laws to prosecute people accused of turning demonstrations violent.

"These bills are so obviously pointed at anyone who tries to speak up to their oppressor to stop oppressing us, whether it be educators who we feel went from heroes to expendable within six months or black and brown people," said Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association President Shawna Mott-Wright.

A statewide teacher walkout in 2018 helped push lawmakers to raise teacher pay and increase public school funding.

ACLU Oklahoma said the bills will have broad consequences. Policy and Advocacy Director Nicole McAfee pointed to House Bill 1822’s laundry list of rules for demonstrations at the state capitol.

"Everything from the teacher walkout to Black Lives Matter protests to Second Amendment protests on capitol grounds would have violated some provision of these restrictions," McAfee said.

Oklahoman and Young Democrats of America President Joshua Harris-Till said he's concerned any new law the legislature passes will be applied selectively.

"In this state, it is oftentimes the marginalized voices that aren’t oftentimes heard, and these are why they do the protests that they’ve done, this is why the speak on the things that they speak on," Harris-Till said.

The group Oklahoma Progress Now has launched a campaign asking people to pledge money to oppose lawmakers supporting anti-protest bills.