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Protesters, drivers both deserve safety

Drivers should not be allowed to hit a protester blocking traffic; however, immediate arrest and action should take place if the protest is illegal. 

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, filed a bill giving drivers immunity from civil liability if they injure a protester who is blocking traffic, according to The Tennessean. 

Although proposed legislation does not protect drivers who carelessly hit protesters or act out in rage, the bill should not go into effect because of the confusion and chaos the legislation would bring.

A problem arises when citizens hear they are allowed to hit protesters but do not know the limitations they have to get full immunity.

A chaotic situation is bound to break loose when you have uninformed protesters blocking traffic and road raging drivers needing to go somewhere.

Instead of handing over the action to the citizens, lawmakers need to come up with legislation that informs the public of the differences between legal and illegal rights to assemble and guarantees direct action from the police if protestors block traffic without a permit.

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees citizens the right to assemble peacefully. However, the government can enforce limitations.

According to the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court constitutionally declared permission for the government to require a permit for an assembly to be obtained in advance for certain areas of protests.

“The First Amendment does not provide the right to conduct an assembly at which there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder or interference with traffic on public streets, or other immediate threat to public safety or order,” according to the Library of Congress.

In order for a protest to take place on a street, the leader of the assembly must receive an accepted permit from the police department.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, protests can take place on public sidewalks, parks and plazas without a permit.

Most people are uninformed about the restrictions of the First Amendment rights.

Blocking traffic because of an illegal protest is a sign of ignorance and intolerance to other people.

The limitations are in place because blocking traffic is dangerous because it delays people from getting to work or school and keeps emergency officials from providing help to those in need.

If the police department approves the permit to protest on a street, they can inform the public in advance to take a different route.

Illegal protests are dangerous and should be stopped immediately, but giving the citizens right to take action causes more harm.

Tennessee lawmakers need to think of a better way to provide the best safety against protests that block traffic, which serves both the protester and the driver.

The contact information for the authors of the bill are listed below:

SB0944 – Sen.Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro

Phone: 615-741-6853

HB0668 – Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough

Phone: 615-741-2251

About Sarah Eskildson

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One comment

  1. Although we do have the constitutional right to peaceful assembly there are laws in place. One of these laws is you have to get a permit in order to protest. In Nashville for instance Under the Metropolitan Code, “No person shall parade, unless a parade permit has been obtained from the chief of police, or his/her designee, upon application filed with the chief of police not less than six days before the date on which it is proposed to conduct the parade. Any request for a permit to parade in or upon a park shall be approved by the director of parks and recreation…”[1]. A parade “means any march or procession of any kind, in or upon any street, sidewalk, alley or other public place, held for the purpose of expressing First Amendment freedoms in the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee.” Most if not all counties in Tennessee have a similar law on the books.

    If you go outside the perimeters of that permit you are no longer a law abiding citizen, and are subject to prosecution of the law. Last year when the protesters in Nashville ended up on the interstate was no accident. I guarantee you that “chaos” didn’t lead them all into standing on the interstate. The plan was to disrupt traffic to prove the point of their protest. I for one hope this bill passes. Just because you want to protest something does not give you the right to impede someone else’s safety. We have already had judges uphold the case in California where protesters shut down a bridge and trapped motorist were forced to stay there for hours. The outcome of the case was that the protesters were found guilty of false imprisonment do to the motorist freedom of movement being taken away.
    Bottom line if you are stupid enough to stand in the middle of a major roadway with no permit in place, being ran over is on you not the motorist. You should have more commons sense and thankfully these laws makers are making the individual impeding the public’s safety responsible for their actions and not the motorist. There are already laws in place that protect a protestor’s right to assemble. The issue is when they choose to act outside the law. When that happens the consequence should be on the person action outside the law.