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Why do lawmakers want to make it legal for drivers to hit protesters?

White supremacy protests in Charlottesville, Va., devolve into a chaotic day of violence

WARNING: This video contains graphic content. A car plowed into a crowd of protesters killing one as clashes between protesters and counter-protesters broke out in Charlottesville, Va.
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WARNING: This video contains graphic content. A car plowed into a crowd of protesters killing one as clashes between protesters and counter-protesters broke out in Charlottesville, Va.

Many lawmakers expressed outrage and sympathy after the death on Saturday of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a driver appeared to deliberately ram his car into a crowd of people protesting against white supremacists. But some of those same lawmakers were railing against protestors in roadways months ago, and it was in response to Black Lives Matter protests.

Black Lives Matter protesters have blocked traffic on major highways and roadways across the country since 2014, in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. These protestors were far from the first to use the tactic, but it received renewed scrutiny in recent years, especially following the police-related deaths of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, Philando Castile in Saint Paul, Minnesota and others.

The shutdown of highways by protestors prompted several arrests, and lawmakers – most of them Republican – in many states introduced legislation with various levels of protection for drivers who hit protestors that were blocking streets. Some first responders have been fired for making jokes about running over Black Lives Matter protestors.

Miami has experienced roadway-blocking protests of its own: both the election of President Donald Trump and his inauguration prompted significant traffic snarls.

Florida Sen. George Gainer introduced a bill that would ensure drivers who “unintentionally” hit protestors who are obstructing traffic would not be held liable. It failed in committee.

Gainer told WUFT that he was motivated to file the bill due to protests in Miami and Tampa and anti-Trump protests across the country.

“They should have every right in the world to protest the things they disagree with,” Gainer said. “But they don’t have the right to randomly go out into the interstates and attack the cars, beat on the windshields, jump up on the hoods and act like they’ve been hit. In some cases, they set themselves up to be hit.”

In North Carolina, a similar bill passed the House on a 67-48 vote but died in the Senate. Other states that considered similar legislation include Virginia – where 32-year-old Heyer was killed – Oklahoma, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington, according to the Washington Post. Some states took the route of removing liability from drivers, while some simply increased penalties for blocking roadways.

Some bills were reportedly requested by law enforcement.

Many lawmakers who introduced legislation in their respective states have denounced the white supremacist protests that happened in Charlottesville over the weekend and expressed sorrow for Heyer’s death. Heyer was crossing a street when the car struck the crowd, killing her and injuring 19 others.

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