Two pieces of legislation that would increase the criminal penalties for those convicted of engaging in violent protests have made it through the Georgia House of Representatives and will now be considered in the Senate.
One of the bills would make the crime of rioting a felony that would carry up to a 20-year prison sentence. It’s currently a misdemeanor. The crime involves “any two or more persons who shall do an unlawful act of violence or any other act in a violent and tumultuous manner.”
The other bill would create a new arson offense specifically for setting fire to a police vehicle. A conviction would carry a prison sentence of at least five years and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
Bills are a reaction to recent protests that have turned violent
Both pieces of legislation, which are predominantly supported by Republicans, are an outgrowth of some of the social justice protests in recent years that at times turned violent. Those supporting the stricter laws note that those who instigate the violence are often from outside the state and that they do “brand damage” to the cities where the protests turn violent
Although those behind the legislation claim to want to protect peaceful protest, opponents say the changes will make it more expensive – prohibitively so in some cases – for families to bail out those who have been arrested.
House Minority Leader James Beverly asserted that legislators should be dealing with issues that are more important to the lives of Georgia residents. He said, “If you aren’t going to help Georgians, you cannot criticize the way in which they cry out against injustices.”
In the chaos of a peaceful protest that turns violent, it can be hard for law enforcement officers to determine who is actually breaking the law and who got caught in the middle of things. With the stakes likely about to become even greater, it’s important to protect your rights and present your case if you’re facing charges. Having legal guidance is a good first step.