"We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law-abiding citizens' safety will not be tolerated," said Stitt following the passage of the law. "I remain unequivocally committed to protecting every Oklahoman's First Amendment right to peacefully protest as well as their right to feel safe in their community."
The bill in question, House Bill 1674, was authored by State Rep. Kevin West and State Sen. Rob Standridge, both Republicans. The bill provides legal protections "for motor vehicle operators who unintentionally cause injury or death to an individual participating in a riot under certain circumstances" provided that it can be proven there was a "reasonable belief" the life of the driver or his passengers were in danger.
The bill also punishes organizations involved with individuals participating in riots or unlawful assemblies with a fine "that is 10 times the amount of the fine authorized by the appropriate provision of the bill."
Furthermore, the bill amends state law to classify the unlawful obstruction of roads or highways as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and a one-year prison sentence.
"This is an important protection for citizens who are just trying to get out of a bad situation," said West. "When fleeing an unlawful riot, they should not face the threat of prosecution for trying to protect themselves, their families or their property."
Standridge said he was moved to propose this piece of legislation because of an incident that occurred in Tulsa in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd.
During the incident, a family in a pickup truck was forced to drive through a crowd of violent rioters to protect themselves. Several people were injured in the incident, and one demonstrator was paralyzed from the waist down. The driver was not charged.
"The [driver's] kids cowered in the back seat because they feared for their lives," Standridge explained while the bill was on the Senate floor. "That's what this bill is about."
The Oklahoma Senate voted 38 to 10 in favor of the bill. The House approved the legislation on March 10 with 79 votes in favor and 18 votes against. (Related: Oklahoma lawmakers approve bill that allows vehicle drivers to ESCAPE violent protests, even if it means running over assailants.)
Stitt signed HB 1674 into law on Wednesday, April 21. It will take effect on Nov. 1, 2021.
Before Stitt was able to sign HB 1674, a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators attempted to stall its passage in the Oklahoma Legislature. Dozens of Black Lives Matter agitators stormed the fifth-floor gallery of the Oklahoma House of Representatives while the chamber was in session.
Footage from the incident showed the demonstrators rising up from their seats in the gallery, raising their fists and chanting "Black Lives Matter," "Stand united against all hate" and "We will use our voices to stand against corruption, to fight hate, to defend Black and Brown lives."
In addition to HB 1674, the demonstrators were also protesting another bill – signed by Stitt later that day – that would have criminalized "doxxing" police officers. This refers to the act of willfully publicizing the personal information of individuals with the intent of harming, threatening or intimidating them. This information includes their social media accounts, home addresses, personal phone numbers and place of employment.
The demonstrators were also trying to prevent the passage of an "anti-transgender" bill that would prohibit individuals of the "male sex" from participating in athletic teams designated for "females, women or girls."
The interruption caused by the Black Lives Matter demonstrators prevented the House's session from continuing for several minutes. After they chanted their slogans, they were escorted out of the House chamber by security. While exiting, several individuals got into heated exchanges with other people.
One man was recorded standing nose-to-nose with a lawmaker who met with him on the gallery. Most of the exchange was inaudible, but it appeared to be a heated verbal confrontation.
"You're a disgrace, you're an embarrassment to the whole [expletive] nation," shouted the male demonstrator as he was led away by one of his accomplices.
"You all are fascists, traitors and insurrectionists and seditionists," shouted another woman as she was being led out of the gallery.
The demonstrators attempted to make their way into the Senate chamber but were unable to enter because the door was locked. Oklahoma Highway Patrol then escorted them out of the building. No arrests were made.
Both the Senate and the House were placed under a short lockdown after the incident. According to a local reporter, police dogs were sent into the galleries to make sure "nothing was left behind" by the demonstrators.
Black Lives Matter is still active. Learn more about their recent activities in Oklahoma and all across the nation by reading the latest articles at Rioting.news.