“We live in very volatile political times,” said Representative Arthur Corvese. “Whether your perspective is derived from television, radio, the newspapers or social media, it is glaringly obvious every day that America is a polarized nation. Members of the extreme right and the extreme left face off every day with words and actions.“
Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) has introduced legislation to prohibit attendees of rallies, demonstrations, parades or assemblies from using protective gear or masks that would circumvent law enforcement crowd-control measures or obscure their identity.
The legislation is meant to ensure that law enforcement is not at a disadvantage when trying to protect lives and safety when violence breaks out at such events.
“We live in very volatile political times,” said Representative Corvese. “Whether your perspective is derived from television, radio, the newspapers or social media, it is glaringly obvious every day that America is a polarized nation. Members of the extreme right and the extreme left face off every day with words and actions. In certain cities, such as Boston and Portland, Oregon, confrontations between these extremes have turned violent. Local law enforcement officers perform a herculean job in maintaining order while allowing First Amendment rights to be expressed. However, their duty to keep the peace must not be hampered by individuals on both sides of the political divide who are looking to commit violence in the name of their respective causes. This bill would assist our local law enforcement in protecting all participants and maintaining the public peace, while ensuring First Amendment rights are preserved.”
The legislation H7543 would prohibit people at parades, rallies, demonstrations or assemblies from the possession or wearing of gas masks, riot helmets, face visors, body armor, vests, neck protection, knee pads, riot shields or any other equipment meant to defeat law enforcement tactics to control crowds. It would also prohibit attendees from wearing a mask, hood, makeup, robe, helmet, disguise of any type or facial alteration with the intent of avoiding their identification.
Violations would be punishable by up to a year in prison or a fine of up to $1,000.
Similar bills have been passed in other states and municipalities to assist law enforcement in the proper performance of their duty. New York City has long had a law against gatherings of two or more people wearing masks to hide their identities, and the police chief in Portland, Oregon, which has been the scene of numerous violent clashes between right- and left-wing protesters, has called for a similar law.
The legislation is supported by the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association (RIPCA) as well as the Rhode Island Fraternal Order of Police.
“The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association is in support of House Bill 7543 introduced by Representative Corvese. Law enforcement appreciates the intent of the bill to recognize that the public has the right to organize in public to exercise their rights under the First Amendment, but to do so in a way which also protects the rights and safety of law enforcement and the public we serve. The RIPCA looks forward to working with Representative Corvese and all of the legislators on this issue,” said Sidney Wordell, executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association.
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“The Rhode Island State Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police, would like to thank Representative Corvese and the cosponsors of this legislation because it will assist law enforcement to identify and possibly apprehend individuals who cause property damage and/or harm or injure anyone,” said Robert Quinn, president of the Rhode Island Fraternal Order of Police.
Cosponsors of the legislation include Representatives Stephen Ucci (Democrat, District 42, Johnston), Robert Jacquard (Democrat, District 17, Cranston), Representative Raymond Johnston (Democrat, District 61, Pawtucket) and Dennis Canario (Democrat, District 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton).
[From a press release]