Ariz. bill would harshen penalties for protesters

The bill would make “violent or disorderly assembly” resulting in damage or injury a class 6 felony

By Suzie Ziegler 

PHOENIX — An Arizona legislative committee advanced a bill on Monday that would create a new crime called “violent or disorderly assembly.” According to the Arizona Republic, the charge would be defined as “damaging property or hurting someone while intending to riot or unlawfully assemble with at least seven other people.” 

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Bret Roberts, tells the Republic that he pushed for the bill in response to the recent rise in violent protest. 

If signed into law, the Republic reports that House Bill 2309 would change the following when done during a disorderly assembly: 

  • Enact a minimum of six months in jail for someone convicted of assaulting an officer, which is already automatically considered aggravated assault under Arizona law.  

  • Make pointing a laser pointer at a peace officer a class 6 felony as opposed to a class 1 misdemeanor. 

  • Make criminal damage worth more than $250 but less than $1,000 a class 6 felony instead of a class 1 misdemeanor. 

  • Make obstructing a public thoroughfare a class 6 felony versus a class 1 misdemeanor. 

  • Make a public nuisance charge a class 6 felony instead of a class 2 misdemeanor. 

  • Make abuse of venerated objects a class 6 felony instead of a class 2 misdemeanor. 

  • Make using fireworks a class 6 felony. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona has criticized the bill for being too broad and criminalizing the act of protest. 

“HB 2309 and SB 1125 would stifle our rights by charging a person with a felony even if they do not commit an act of violence or property damage,” the organization posted on its website. “If passed, people making their voices heard with tactics from the Civil Rights era — like sit-ins, boycotts, and the March to Selma — could be sent to prison.” 

Roberts defended the bill, saying that it’s a matter of “peaceable” assembly. 

“I support the First Amendment, you know, free speech,” Roberts told the Republic. “But there’s a portion of that that says ‘peaceably assemble.’ And when you cross that line of where you’re failing to peaceably assemble, then that’s where I have a problem with it.” 

Roberts says it’s not clear if the governor is expected to sign the bill into law. 

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