By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday night delayed a vote on legislation that would create a new definition of riot and increase the penalties for participating in one.
Republican Rep. Allen Treadaway, noting the late hour and the number of lawmakers who wanted to speak on the bill, asked to carry the bill over to the call of the chair. It was not immediately clear when it would be back for a vote. The measure is expected to spark a filibuster by House Democrats.
Republicans supporting the bill said it is needed to combat violent protests that cause injuries and property damage. But critics argued it would have a chilling effect on protests and that the definition of riot could allow an officer to make arrests based on presumptions, and prejudices, about the people involved.
The bill, as amended by the House Judiciary Committee, defines riot as, “the assemblage of five or more persons engaging in conduct which creates an immediate danger of and/or results in damage to property or injury to persons.” Attending such a gathering after an order from police to disperse would be a misdemeanor punishable by a mandatory 30 days in jail.
Treadaway, a retired Birmingham assistant police chief, proposed the bill after a summer protest in Birmingham in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. The protest turned destructive.
“Buildings were burning. Stores were being looted,” Treadaway, a Republican from Morris, told the committee last week.
During the committee vote last week, several lawmakers who are Black expressed concern that the bill’s definition of a riot is subjective. Rep. Merika Coleman said her 21-year-old son, a college student and football player, is “one of the sweetest people you will ever meet.” But she said some people make assumptions when they see a group of young Black men.
“They make an assumption about who they are, and they make an assumption about what they are about to do,” said Coleman, a Democrat from Pleasant Grove.
A federal judge blocked a similar Florida statute from taking effect. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama has said it would seek a similar injunction in that state if the bill were to become law.