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Anti-rioting bill advances out of committee

Democrats opposed the legislation, saying it could affect peaceful protesters, too.

Police in Huntsville respond to protesters in June 2020. (VIA DAVID CAPO)

The Alabama House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill aimed at cracking down on rioters, though opponents say the bill could affect peaceful protesters. House Bill 445 is sponsored by state Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris. Treadaway is a retired Birmingham police captain.

Treadaway said that he began drafting the legislation this summer after a political protest in downtown Birmingham turned into a riot that resulted in widespread damage and burglaries in multiple businesses and the vandalization of public property.

“Because the freedom of speech is so important, our founding fathers made it the first enumerated right in the U.S. Constitution, but when protest turns to violence, that liberty no longer applies,” Treadaway said. “We must protect Alabama businesses, public property, and first responders from the kind of mob rule that took over the streets of Birmingham this summer, and my legislation establishes a firm first step toward achieving that goal.”

Democrats opposed the legislation.

Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, said:

“I think Rev. King’s words are especially relevant: ‘Riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice.’

“Black people in Alabama have marched, penned songs, wrote, spoken, prayed, and screamed for justice. How should Black people express their frustration to lawmakers who seem more committed to silencing Black outcry than doing what is right? If we are genuinely concerned about public safety, we will address the underlying causes of inequality rather than introduce bills aimed at silencing people who oppose injustice.”

The vote came a week after a public hearing on the bill last week. Treadaway had been working to alleviate the concerns of the bill’s opponents.

Among the provisions of Treadaway’s legislation are:

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  • A person who is arrested for knowingly participating in a riot would be placed on a 24-hour hold before becoming eligible for bail, and, upon conviction, would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail and an order of restitution. [Note: The 24-hour hold requirement in this and other sections will require passage of an accompanying constitutional amendment.]
  • A person who knowingly participates in the new crime of “Aggravated Riot,” which requires bodily or property damage to result, would also be held for 24 hours before becoming eligible for bail, and, upon conviction of the Class C felony, would face a mandatory minimumsentence of six months and an order of restitution.
  • Those convicted of Riot, Aggravated Riot, or Inciting a Riot would become ineligible to hold public office in Alabama.
  • The crime of Assault Against a First Responder in the first and second degrees are created and those arrested for the offenses are initially held for 24 hours before becoming bail-eligible. A First Degree conviction, which would be a Class B felony, results in at least one year in jail, a $15,000 fine, and an order of restitution, and a Second Degree conviction, classified as a Class C felony, carries a minimum six-month jail sentence, a $5,000 fine, and a restitution requirement.
  • Any government entity in Alabama that defunds a local law enforcement agency would lose eligibility for any state funding, grants, revenues, or other forms of aid. In addition, any entity that defunds a law enforcement agency would become civilly-liable for any violent crime that result from the action.
  • The crime of purposely blocking an Interstate would become a felony with accompanying fines and incarceration.

The committee gave the bill a favorable report on a party-line vote. The House Judiciary Committee is chaired by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville. HB445 now can be considered by the full House of Representatives as early as Thursday. Tuesday was day 15 of the 2021 Legislative Session.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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