Editorial & Opinion

Rep Corvese seeks to criminalize protest – again! (And this time it might pass)

Here’s the deal – At the House Judiciary hearing tonight Corvese is going to say a lot of high sounding bullshit about how his bill isn’t targeting any group because of their race or because of what they believe. He will describe this as a law and order bill, and say that his intention is public safety. But this bill is not that. This bill is an another sad attempt to suppress speech the kind of speech that Corvese, Noret, Hawkins, Azzinaro, Casey and Phillips don’t like.
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Published on May 12, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Across the country, in response to last year’s “Summer of Protest” Republican lawmakers have been proposing bills targeting activist. These bills are blatant attempts to circumvent the first amendment right to speech, assembly and protest, and to criminalize the behavior of people calling for racial and social justice.

But in Rhode Island, it’s not Republicans leading this charge, but six “Democrats” led by Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence). Corvese has attempted multiple times in recent years to criminalize – to the point of a felony – the behavior of protesters. The Reps signing onto Corvese’s most recent bill include Noret, Hawkins, Azzinaro, Casey and Phillips – among the very worst the General Assembly has to offer when it comes to civil rights.

Corvese’s most recent bill is yet another attempt to increase the penalties on protesters who block highways. it does so by altering the law against disorderly conduct. In this bill, “highways” doesn’t just mean interstate thouroughfares. It’s broadly defined as “highway, street, sidewalk, railway, waterway, building entrance, elevator, aisle, stairway, or hallway.”

Mind you, marching your protest onto, let’s say, Route 95 and blocking traffic is already illegal. The State Police have never had a problem arresting and prosecuting people who protest on the highway. Believe me, I know. I was there – every time it’s happened in the last eight years. State Police use pepper spray, issue threats, initiate violence and conduct arrests with reckless abandon.

But for lawmakers like Corvese, this isn’t enough. He wants to make sure that protesters serve hardcore jail time. Previous attempts to felonize protesting that Corvese doesn’t approve of have not been successful, so this time his bill is more subtle, but no less racist and fascist in its intent. In House Bill 6269, Corvese seeks to change the law around disorderly conduct, removing protections for protesters and opening them to charges that can result in six months in prison, a $500 fine, or both. Not a felony, but something that could have profound and life altering consequences for young people protesting in the street because the are sick of being shot and killed by the police.

And remember – blocking a highway like Route 95 is already a crime, and we already arrest people and prosecute them for it.

Corvese’s bill cleverly carves out an exemption for a “lawful picketing or lawful demonstrations” related to labor disputes, a cute way to avoid having this bill be opposed by labor organizations.

Just over a year ago Corvese’s dislike of the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted across Rhode Island, the United States and the world manifested in his attempt to ban the wearing of masks and “protective gear” in public during protests and demonstrations. Protective gear being things like helmets and goggles, because what kind of future would it be if we tried to stop Orwell’s boot from stomping us in the face forever, right? Ironically, Corvese presented his bill just before everything shut done for the pandemic, and mask wearing in public became mandatory.

Here’s the deal – At the House Judiciary hearing tonight Corvese is going to say a lot of high sounding bullshit about how his bill isn’t targeting any group because of their race or because of what they believe. He will describe this as a law and order bill, and say that his intention is public safety. But this bill is not that. This bill is an another sad attempt to suppress speech – the kind of free speech that Corvese, Noret, Hawkins, Azzinaro, Casey and Phillips don’t like.

It’s fascism. It’s racism. It’s cruel. It’s unnecessary.

We need people in the State House who will protect and expand our rights, not constantly shit on them. I’m sorry I’m releasing all this so late, too late to sign up to testify by phone. But it’s not too late to contact your Rep and let them know that this bill is simply unacceptable.

Here’s my testimony against Representative Corvese’s last attempt to criminalize protest.

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