The right to peacefully assemble and protest is one that Americans have long held dear. In recent months, we’ve seen millions of people exercise that right throughout the country on behalf of (and against) various causes.
Some protests are more peaceful than others. Tragically, in the recent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, one woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a young man plowed through a group of people gathered to counter protests by white nationalists. The 20-year-old driver is facing second-degree murder charges.
For those in New Mexico who feel strongly about issues and leaders and want to exercise their right to peaceful protest, it may be disturbing to learn that state lawmakers in at least a half dozen states throughout the country have been working to enact legislation that would protect drivers who strike protesters in the streets from criminal and/or civil liability as long as those drivers are exercising “due care,” as one proposed bill puts it, to avoid hitting anyone.
None of the proposed bills has passed their individual state legislatures yet to become law. Some failed to make it out of committee. A bill passed in the North Carolina House, but has yet to be considered by the state senate. One of that state’s legislators expressed the thoughts of many who support this type of legislation when he said, “These people are nuts to run in front of cars like they do. If somebody does bump somebody, why should they be held liable?”
There are no reports of such legislation being considered here in New Mexico. However, it’s important to know what individual state laws are if you are going to participate in a protest, march or rally in another state, as many people do. It’s also essential to exercise caution, particularly if you’re on or near a street that hasn’t been closed to traffic.
These events can be chaotic, even when they’re peaceful. It may be difficult to determine who was at fault if someone in a crowd is struck by a vehicle. If you’re injured, it’s important to find out what your rights are. Even if the driver isn’t charged with a crime, you may be able to seek compensation in civil court.
Source: ThinkProgress, “Republicans in 6 states are trying to protect drivers who hit protesters,” Kira Lerner, Aug. 14, 2017