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N.C. House passes bill to increase punishments for rioters, could overturn veto


Supporters of abortion rights gather in Raleigh to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.

On Feb. 8, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed House Bill 40, which increases the punishments for rioting or harming first responders and property during a protest.

H.B. 40, the Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder bill, would punish those who participate in a riot while showing a weapon or using a dangerous substance with a Class H felony, which has a maximum sentence of 39 months in prison.

If a person who is rioting assaults a member of emergency personnel they would also be guilty of a Class H felony. 

The bill passed in the N.C. House 75-43, with all Republicans and six Democratsvoting in support. This may give the bill enough votes to override a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper.

The primary sponsors of H.B. 40 are N.C. Reps. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland, Rutherford), John Sauls (R-Lee, Moore), Charles Miller (R-Brunswick, New Hanover) and Shelly Willingham (D-Bertie, Edgecombe, Martin).

Moore, the speaker of the N.C. House, introduced similar legislation in 2021 that was vetoed by Cooper, a Democrat.

In his veto, Cooper said the bill was meant to "deter people from exercising their constitutional rights to peaceful protest.”

Moore said in a statement that H.B. 40 "enforces harsher penalties for the perpetrators of violence and looting, while also preserving every North Carolinian’s right to protest peacefully."

A business owner whose property has been damaged or a person who is injured during a riot can now sue for up to three times the damages, as well as court costs and attorney's fees.

The bill passed its first reading in the N.C. Senate and is now in the Senate rules committee. 

Dawn Blagrove, the executive director of Emancipate NC, said the state House is using the bill to further criminalize marginalized groups who are trying to advocate for political change.

"Not only will this bill increase mass incarceration, it will also create a chilling effect on people elevating their voices, who are trying to fight against mass incarceration," Blagrove said. "This bill is also targeting the Black Lives Matter movement because Speaker Moore said specifically, it came about as a response to the 2020 protests related to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's murder."

Isabella Siesel, a junior at UNC and an EMT, said while H.B. 40 does not explicitly stop peaceful protests, she thinks it provides an opportunity for it to be misused against people who are peacefully protesting.

"The people who are participating peacefully might be grouped into that larger group and have to face penalties under this new bill," Siesel said.

Aimy Steele, the CEO and founder of the New North Carolina Project — a nonprofit that encourages communities of color to vote — said damage to physical property should never be condoned. 

But, she said the bill disproportionately targets people of color who are gathering peacefully.

"Anyone could be targeted just from walking in a group, and displayed or labeled as having disorderly conduct, and if that leads to an arrest record, that can impact someone's ability to vote," Steele said. "And so it absolutely continues to disenfranchise the Black and brown voters of North Carolina."

Steele also said the bill's language is too vague. 

"It doesn't specify what disorderly conduct is, or what engaging in a riot means, or what urging others to engage in a riot means," she said. "And it leaves the judgment of this up to police officers."

@DTHCityState | 

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