Editorial: Gov. Greg Abbott’s proposals could target peaceful protesters and rioters alike

At a campaign event in Dallas last week, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a series of legislative proposals that would increase penalties for crimes associated with rioting. Some proposals would create new laws, criminalizing activities such as the use of lasers and blocking entrances and exits to hospitals.

The Shorthorn does not condone rioting, looting or violence against police officers. While Abbott’s proposals appear to be aimed at curbing these crimes, their true consequence will likely discourage Americans from expressing their First Amendment rights. With this in mind, we believe these proposals should not be passed into law.

According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, recent protests in Texas have been peaceful. While there were riots in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, most protests never escalated to violence.

In addition to the riots, there were also documented instances of police using excessive force on peaceful protesters. Police fired bean bags and tear gas at nonviolent protesters, sometimes seriously injuring them. These proposals could give police the ability to arrest nonviolent protesters on felony charges.

Under current state law, participating in a riot is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and is defined as a gathering of seven or more people that creates a danger to a person or to property. Many nonviolent protesters were arrested in Texas in the months after George Floyd’s death, and some were charged with serious crimes. One 18-year-old protester faces 20 years in prison for allegedly throwing a water bottle at a police officer.

Destruction of property and harming individuals must not be tolerated. However, the solution isn’t giving police more power to arrest nonviolent protesters on serious charges. While some of these proposals are obviously meant to create harsher penalties for rioting, others appear aimed at criminalizing peaceful protests. Blocking hospital entrances, using lasers or throwing water bottles at police in particular seem like easy charges for police to abuse.

A recent poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College found that 57% of Texans think law and order are more important than the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the majority of Texans think systemic racism is a more important issue than rioting.

We think Abbott should listen to the majority of Texans and propose legislation to curb systemic racism.

In recent months, Texas police have faced off against protesters, most of whom were peaceful. Some police have acted admirably, creating space for dialogue and even kneeling in solidarity with protesters. Others have shown restraint even when protests turned violent. These police must not be forgotten.

But some police have abused their authority to assault protesters peacefully expressing their First Amendment rights. These police must not be forgotten either.

In the wake of a national civil rights movement, now is not the time to give police more power to potentially arrest nonviolent protesters on serious charges. We call for these proposals to be abandoned.

The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Spencer Brewer; Editor-in-Chief Shay Cohen; news editor Angelica Perez; Cecilia Lenzen, life and entertainment editor; sports editor Chris Amaya; David Silva Ramirez, life and entertainment reporter; and copy editor Andrew Walter. Amaya was not present for this editorial decision, and multimedia editor Elias Valverde II filled in.

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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