Oklahoma Senate Sends 2 Bills Aimed At Protesters To The Governor

Apr 14, 2021

Protests over police violence toward Black Americans popped up nationwide last summer, including in Tulsa.
Credit Black Wall Street Times

The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday sent the governor two bills to clamp down on protests.

House Bill 1674 grants drivers who hit protesters in the road immunity if they feared they’d be hurt or killed, even if a protester dies. Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) repeatedly cited an incident in Tulsa last summer where a man drove through a crowd on the Inner Dispersal Loop  protesting police violence against Black Americans. One man fell off the overpass and was paralyzed.

Standridge was reminded the driver was not charged in that case.

"Why would we wait for somebody that's fearing for their life to be charged by a DA that wants to make a political case of something? We see this around the country. We don't need it here. So, let's just put it on the books," Standridge said.

Sen. Kevin Matthews (D-Tulsa) said protest is the only recourse his north Tulsa community has.

"Would you be upset if people [who] looked like you were killed without being armed by people that are armed to protect to them?" Matthews said.

Matthews, who chairs the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, also took exception to the bill’s many references to riots.

"Let me give you some context. In my community, people were bombed from the air. People had cannons shot into our churches. Some accounts, 300 people dead and businesses burned down. And it was said that my people were rioting," Matthews said.

HB1674 passed 38–10, with Sens. Greg McCortney (R-Ada) and Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) joining eight of nine Democrats against the bill. Sen. J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso) voted for the bill.

The Senate also gave final passage to House Bill 1643, which prohibits publishing identifying information about police or public officials online to threaten, intimidate or harass them — a practice known as doxxing.

There's existing state law against online harassment.

HB1643 includes someone's name in the personally identifiable information that is not to be published. Minority Leader Kay Floyd asked Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant) how far his bill goes.

"If an officer has a name badge on, which they wear, and a bystander takes a picture of that officer and that badge name is showing, then possibly, that could be a violation?" Floyd said.

"That would be correct. That is the point of it, is to make sure to protect that personal identification and name," Bullard said.

Sen. George Young (D-Oklahoma City) questioned the timing of the bill. This is the first legislative session in Oklahoma after last summer’s nationwide protests over police violence against Black Americans, including the killing of George Floyd.

"The foundation of this bill is to keep institutional racism alive. Many of you may not agree with that, but you got to look at it beyond your own positions and look at it through the eyes of others who this type of legislation would impact," Young said.

HB1643 passed 39–8. Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) joined seven of nine Democrats against the bill. Dossett voted for it, and Matthews was listed as excused.

ACLU of Oklahoma condemned both measures.

"The Oklahoma legislature is attempting to silence the voices of their constituents and criminalize vital calls for accountability and racial justice," ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director Tamya Cox-Touré said in a statement.

"What is unbecoming is the fact that these anti-freedom policies are passed with a veil over their true intentions — to chill speech, criminalize accountability, and let us all know that a majority of the legislature cares more about protecting the deadly power of the state than they do about rights and liberties, or even public safety."