Kentucky lawmakers are hoping to pass a bill that enforces penalties on protesters who taunt or insult officers.
Republicans in the state Senate said S.B. 211 is a "tool" to protect officers at protests "because in those situations when you've got someone that's right up in your face, yelling in your face, waving their arms, calling you every name that you can think of... they have no ability to protect themselves," Sen. Danny Carroll said, according to Yahoo News.
Carroll added that as a former police officer himself, he's noticed disrespect firsthand which prompted his support of the bill.
“There is a huge silent majority in this country that doesn’t like the way our law enforcement are treated these days,” he said. “It seems that it’s open season on law enforcement. Since when did that become OK in our country?”
The legislation passed on March 12 on a 22-11 vote and will now go to the House for the next round of votes. If approved, it will make it a misdemeanor to challenge or taunt an officer with words or gestures that "would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person." Those charged with the offense could spend up to 90 days in jail with a $250 fine.
According to Fox 8, individuals could also risk losing public assistance for up to three months.
Additionally, the bill will deter lawmakers from defunding the police as well as punish those who provide objects that could be used as weapons to protesters. The bill states that the police need to be able to "maintain and improve their respective financial support."
Although supporters of the bill say it's "not meant to stifle the emotion," critics are skeptical.
Kentucky State Sen. David Yates called the bill "dangerous."
“It makes my stomach turn because I don’t believe any of my good officers are going to provoke a violent response because someone does a ‘your mama’ joke or whatnot,” Yates said.
Angela Cooper, communications director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said the legislation is "clearly an attack on free speech."
“Some Kentuckians’ freedom of speech is under attack, and it depends who you are,” Cooper said.
#SB211 is an extreme bill to stifle dissent. It’s so extreme it would make it a crime to say “insulting” or “offensive” things to law enforcement. ACLU-KY Legal Dir. Corey Shapiro told @courierjournal that lawmakers trying to criminalize speech is, itself, “offensive.” #KYGA21 https://t.co/kwFCRAKovZ— ACLU of Kentucky (@ACLUofKY) March 5, 2021
"This legislation is trying to send a message that [protesters’ safety is not going to be a priority]. … It’s insulting,” she added.
Carroll said he introduced the bill, which came just days after the anniversary of Taylor's killing, as a result of the protests and violence against the police. However, The Washinton Post reported that the majority of Black Lives Matter protests were largely peaceful.
More than 96% of Black Lives Matter protests involved no property damage or police injury and 97.7% reported no injuries among protesters, bystanders or police.
The bill also spelled out punishments for rioting, requiring people to be detained for at least 48 hours. People will also be held accountable for aiming "a light, a laser pointer, an activated horn or other noise-making devices toward the head" of a first responder.
The bill must be passed before the Kentucky House recesses on March 30.