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Open Letter to Department of Justice on Anti-protest Law Trend

 

Ms. Vanita Gupta
Associate Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20540
Ms. Kristen Clarke
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20540

 

August, 10, 2021

Dear Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke,

We write to you, two champions of racial justice, to convey our rapidly growing fear and concern over draconian anti-protest bills that harken back to the Jim Crow era, and are being passed into law across the country.

It’s been one year since we took to the streets in historic numbers amid a global pandemic to stand up for Black lives. Our persistent, loud and clear voices, and organizing efforts were instrumental in obtaining a modicum of accountability for George Floyd. As a result of our collective repudiation of white supremacy and efforts to end the police terror of Black communities, we’re now facing an unprecedented backlash from Republican lawmakers. 

State lawmakers have introduced more than 100 punitive anti-protest bills since the summer of 2020, and 81 in 2021 alone – that’s more than twice as many proposals as in any other year. 

These laws, often backed by organizations affiliated with police unions, are an attempt to criminalize free speech, punish those who speak up for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, and even offer specific protections for counter-protesters who harm us.

Eight states have already passed anti-protest laws this year. In Florida, Oklahoma, and Iowa, laws include deputizing vigilante violence by protecting drivers who injure protesters with their cars – reminiscent of state-sanctioned white mob violence of the post-Reconstruction era. A proposed bill in Indiana would ban anyone convicted of unlawful assembly from holding state employment, including elected office; and bills pending in Minnesota and Oregon would disqualify people convicted of protest-related crimes from enrolling in public assistance programs – including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment benefits. 

In addition to targeting our right to protest, the laws also undermine our collective struggle for Black freedom by allowing local police to penalize municipalities that reduce funding for law enforcement and denying bail to those arrested until their first court appearance – ensuring more of our people in jail. 

This is an assault on our constitutional rights, our communities, and human rights. Even the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner decried the laws for violating international human rights law and the US Constitution's protection of the right to peaceful assembly, and the explicit targeting of Black Lives Matter protesters.  

We have seen time and time again that where racial justice protests flourish, anti-protest laws follow. And we know that police and prosecutors don’t need more tools or power to abuse our Constitutional rights. Congress has yet to act and seriously investigate the FBI for its racist designations such as the Black Identity Extremists (BIE), which are used to label movement activists as terrorists, and further legitimize its authority to stalk us and criminalize constitutionally protected activities. These racist “anti-protests” bills are inseparable from the wider political backlash against our movements fighting for Black liberation and freedom.

As leaders and advocates, we’re asking that you make a public statement condemning these laws on behalf of the Department of Justice, and support any efforts to sue states that have passed anti-protest legislation that disrupts our First Amendment Constitutional right to protest racial injustice. Your actions are necessary to protect the Constitutional rights of all people, and will support our work to protect the right to protest racial injustice, and BIPOC protesters around the country.  

 

Until Justice is Real,

Color of Change

MediaJustice

Free Press

Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE)

Advocacy for Principled Action in Government

American Civil Liberties Union

American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)

American Association of University Professors

ANSWER Coalition

Black and Brown Biennale

Black Freedom Collective

California LGBT Arts Alliance

Carceral Tech Resistance Network

Citizen Action of New York

Civil Liberties Defense Center

Center for Community Alternatives

Center for Media and Democracy

Center for Protest Law & Litigation

Chicago Community Bond Fund

Community Change Action

Community Justice Project

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces

CreaTV San José

Cunningham Township

Californians United for Budget Reform

Defending Rights & Dissent

Demand Progress Education Fund

DemCast USA

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

EX-incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO)

Fight for the Future

Fix Democracy First

Free Speech Coalition (FSC)

Greenpeace USA

Highlander Research & Education Center

Illinois State University

Initiative for a Representative First Amendment

Japanese American Citizens League

Just Futures Law

Line Break Media

Mainers for Accountable Leadership

Media Alliance

Media Freedom Foundation and Project Censored

MPower Change

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Black Worker Center

National Lawyers Guild

NorCal Resist

Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter

Organization for Black Struggle

Palestine Legal

People's Advocacy Institute

People's Budget Greenfield

PEN America

PhillyCAM

Progressive Technology Project

Project On Government Oversight

Public Justice Center

Riverside All of Us or None

RootsAction.org

RYSE Center

St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN)

Semillas

Temple Beth El

Texas Criminal Justice Coalition

Tully Center for Free Speech

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

United Church of Christ, OC Inc.

Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center

Washington Defender Association

Wealth Matters

Wisdom/Moses/Expo.

WITNESS

Woodhull Freedom Foundation

Workers Center for Racial Justice

Working Narratives

X-Lab

1 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/21/us/politics/republican-anti-protest-laws.html

2 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?LangID=E&NewsID=27060

 

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