NC House sends bill to stiffen penalties for rioters to Gov. Cooper’s desk

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would increase criminal penalties for people involved in riots, sending the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper (D).

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore has advocated for the bill to pass after he witnessed the riots in Raleigh last year following the murder of George Floyd.

The vote was 63-41, with Democrats raising concerns about potentially infringing on First Amendment rights of people seeking to protest peacefully.

Social justice groups have decried the bill as an affront to the Black Lives Matter movement and an effort to deter people who are seeking to demonstrate peacefully from attending protests.

“Those folks who want to engage in violence, want to engage in the destruction of property, it’s not gonna happen and it’s gonna be dealt with,” said Moore. “We’ve dealt with all of the legitimate criticisms that were there about making sure someone could not be inadvertently caught up in this who didn’t do anything. We’ve made that as clear as we possibly can.”

The bill would allow police to charge people with more serious felonies if they cause damage in excess of $1,500 or serious bodily injury or someone’s death.

Property owners would be able to sue for up to three times the amount of actual damage sustained. People arrested could also be held in jail for up to 48 hours before a judge considers granting bail.

“Overall, it’s just a really nasty response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which was in response to police brutality,” said Kristie Puckett-Williams, manager of the statewide Campaign for Social Justice with the ACLU of North Carolina. “The short-term and long-term loss of freedom is what the main concern about this bill is.”

She raised concerns about people who are not committing crimes being arrested alongside those who are and potentially being held in jail for an extended period of time.

The bill contains a provision saying that “mere presence alone without an overt act is not sufficient to sustain a conviction,” which was added to the bill since it was introduced earlier this year.

“We’ve dealt with all of the legitimate criticisms that were there about making sure someone could not be inadvertently caught up in this who didn’t do anything. We’ve made that as clear as we possibly can,” Moore said.

Earlier this month, activist groups urged Gov. Cooper to veto the bill if it made it to his desk. Attorney Dawn Blagrove of Emancipate NC called it “racist.”

Cooper hasn’t said explicitly if he’d veto it, but he did raise concerns about the General Assembly not acting on various criminal justice reform measures he’s wanted and were recommended by a task force he assembled to address racial equity.

“So, if we keep treating the symptoms, we’ll never get to the root cause. And, the root cause is the police’s way of interacting with black, brown and marginalized communities,” said Puckett-Williams.

The legislature did pass a criminal justice reform bill last week that included a variety of provisions, such as establishing a duty for law enforcement officers to intervene and report the use of excessive force. It also created a new process of family members to be able to view police body camera video when a loved one is killed or seriously injured. It does not make any changes to make that video more easily accessible to be viewed by the general public, which Cooper has wanted.

“This is all part of, one piece of the puzzle if you will, when it comes a lot of the criminal justice reforms that have passed,” Moore said.

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