Lawmakers’ efforts in several states to enact laws that would penalize protesters pose threats to citizens’ First Amendment rights, Professor Tabatha Abu El-Haj said in an article in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tennessee on March 10.
The article focuses on a list of activists blocked from entering Memphis City Hall as well as laws that would subject protesters to prosecution, such as a proposed bill in Washington state that would make protests that disrupt businesses a felony and a bill in Virginia that would penalize demonstrators who do not disperse quickly enough.
Abu El-Haj said the trend reflects the current political climate.
“Right now there is a lot of public debate about this, and it’s really polarized, with conservative legislatures trying to expand the definition of violent protest,” she said. “A lot of these are just efforts to chill free speech.”
While Memphis police might have legitimate reasons to block those who pose a security risk from entering City Hall, Abu El-Haj said, the process used for identifying such individuals needs to be transparent.