The Criminalization of Protest: Say Goodbye To Free Speech in America

Note: Below this article from the 9th of March is an update from the Wall Street Journal reporting on the passage of the “Anti-Occupy Bill” with comment from the ACLU.

–The GJEP Team

By Devon DB, March 9, 2012

Cross-Posted from Global Research

A new bill, HR 347, the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, also known as the “Trespassing Bill,” is soon to be signed into law by President Obama. This bill effectively criminalizes protest and will hurt protest groups and movements such as Occupy quite hard.

The bill as states that anyone who knowingly “enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so” with the “intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in or [in] proximity to, any restricted building or grounds” or “impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” will be punished with a fine or “or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both.” (emphasis added)

There are already many problems with the bill as it does not attempt to define what “imped[ing] or disrupt[ing] the orderly conduct of government business or official functions” is, nor does it specify what “government business” is or what an “official function” is. This vagueness will allow for the US government to effectively stifle protest and free speech, thus criminalizing such actions like the upcoming Occupy Chicago anti-NATO/G-8 protests. In addition to this, such a law will make it impossible for Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights when “government business” is being attended to or “official functions” are occurring.

Unsurprisingly, only three people voted against the measure: Paul Broun (R-GA-10), Justin Amash (R-MI-3) and Ron Paul (R-TX-14). This law would allow federal law enforcement “to bring these charges against Americans engaged in political protests anywhere in the country, and violators will face criminal penalties that include imprisonment for up to 10 years.” HR 347 will is ripe for abuse, as the NYPD has, as of recent, assumed the notion that taking photos and videotaping is a form of disorderly conduct.

The fact that only three people in the House, all Republicans oppose the bill and absolutely no Democrats (see the voting list here ), only shows just how both parties are just two sides of the same coin.

This law comes at the heels of the US government having debated over whether or not to indefinitely detain US citizens and Attorney General Eric Holder- the Obama administration’s version of John Yoo, arguing that the President can assassinate US citizens without providing any evidence whatsoever to anyone.

Free speech may very well soon be nothing but a distant relic of the past.

Civil Liberties Advocates See Backslide in New Trespass Law

Cross-Posted from the Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2011

The difference one word can make.

Last week, President Obama signed into law the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, which has been called “the anti-Occupy” bill, but as the ACLU points out, it was the elimination of one word from an existing law that could make life harder for protesters.

As first-year criminal law students know, most crimes require that a certain state of mind be proven. The new law re-writes an existing 1971 trespass law, which stated someone had to act “willfully and knowingly” when committing the crime.

Now, the language has been changed so that the actor only need behave “knowingly,” which would mean knowing one was in a restricted area but not necessarily that he or she was committing a crime. This small change would allow the Secret Service to arrest protestors more easily, the ACLU said in a statement.

The law makes it an offense to knowingly enter the certain areas without legal authority. The following areas are off-limits:

(1) the White House or its grounds or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.

The bill originally passed the House of Representatives 399-3 in February 2011. On Feb. 6 of this year it passed the Senate with changes, which were approved by the House. The president signed the bill into law on March 8.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), who introduced the measure in the Senate, said it will “improve the law enforcement tools available to the Secret Service in its attempts to protect the President, the Vice President, and others on a day-to-day basis by closing loopholes in the current federal law,” according to his statement.

He added: “The new law should punish and deal more effectively with anyone who illegally enters restricted areas to threaten the President, Vice President, or other Secret Service protectees.”

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Occupy Wall Street, Political Repression

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