Attack on free speech clears House committee | Arkansas Blog

Attack on free speech clears House committee

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Rep. Bob Ballinger - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Rep. Bob Ballinger

A bill that would criminalize protest cleared the House Judiciary Committee today on a voice vote. Senate Bill 550 would make "unlawful mass picketing" a Class A misdemeanor. The bill defines mass picketing broadly:
(1) Engages in mass picketing that:
(A) Obstructs access by the mass picketing to the pursuit of lawful work or employment; or
(B) Obstructs:
(i) The entrance to or egress from a place of employment; or
(ii) Free use of public roads, streets, highways, railways, airports, or other rights-of-way of travel or conveyance; or
(2) Engages in mass picketing at a private residence that:
(A) Obstructs the entrance to or exit from the private residence; or
(B) Includes a threat of violence or intimidation communicated near or contiguous to the private residence
It would merely be another tool for law enforcement, Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville) aw-shucks-ed. "The libertarian principle of nonaggression is that your rights stop where someone else's rights begin."

Rizelle Aaron, president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP, told the committee that criminalizing protest could lead to violence. He recounted his experience at a protest that broke out on 12th Street in Little Rock in 2013 in the wake of a police shooting. Aaron, a former police officer, said his stepdaughter was among the police officers who assembled when the protest began. He said the first inclination by an assistant chief on the scene was to disperse the crowd, which gathered near a gas station. Aaron said he knew some of the protesters had concealed weapons and told the police that breaking up the crowd could lead to violence. Police ultimately stood down.

The bill is part of a national trend to clamp down on protesters.


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