Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has signed into law legislation that protects drivers from being prosecuted or sued if they injure or kill demonstrators while fleeing what they reasonably perceive to be threat of harm in a riot.
Stitt signed the bill, which also stiffens penalties for protesters who block public roadways, on Wednesday. But the most controversial provision was one that gives motorists immunity from prosecution for unintentionally striking and killing or injuring rioters who block roads and threaten them.
“We are sending a message today in Oklahoma that rioters who threaten law-abiding citizens will not be tolerated,” Stitt said. “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.”
Critics suggested that the law will give drivers a green light to run over peaceful protesters and claim they were in danger. For instance, such a law might have provided legal cover when James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at the 2017 Unite the Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing Heather Heyer.
However, Fields sped down the street toward the crowd, meaning he wasn’t blocked and wasn’t fleeing. Fields was convicted of federal hate crimes and was sentenced to life in prison.
“So essentially he’s outlawing any peaceful protests because I’m pretty sure some of his buddies are revving their engines,” one Twitter user said of Stitt.
Read more: Oklahoma governor signs bill into law protecting motorists who unintentionally run over rioters from being prosecuted or sued