News about a group of climate change activists staging protests in Washington, DC last month and blocking the flow of traffic at major intersections has gotten the attention of at least one Congressman, and not in a good way.
Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN) said he plans to introduce legislation in response to the protests that would “force protestors arrested at demonstrations in D.C. to pay for police overtime and other fees related to the action.”
Banks announced his intent to introduce the bill in a series of tweets the same day that protestors took to the streets in DC.
Banks added, “To be clear, my bill will not prohibit other demonstrations or protests on the National Mall like the annual March for Life or Women’s March. Those protests are legal because they obtained official permits. My bill would only apply to illegal protesters who are arrested.”
Under my bill, a person will be responsible for public safety response costs incurred by the District of Columbia’s response to a demonstration if, in connection with the demonstration, the person is convicted of a felony or misdemeanor offense.— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) September 23, 2019
To be clear, my bill will not prohibit other demonstrations or protests on the National Mall like the annual March for Life or Women’s March. Those protests are legal because they obtained official permits. My bill would only apply to illegal protesters who are arrested.— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) September 23, 2019
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) attacked the proposed bill from Banks, saying in a statement, “No Member of Congress can infringe upon residents’ First Amendment rights and free speech. Because the District is the nation’s capital, it will always attract national protestors, and, for that reason, the cost must be borne by the national government. One would think that Congressman Banks had learned his lesson when he faced backlash for attacking local funding for our local schools. I defeated such self-serving, anti-democracy bills from passing even when Democrats were in the minority, and I will do so again in the House majority.”
As of the time of this writing, Banks has not yet formally introduced the legislation or issued any press releases about it.
About the Protests
The protests were organized by a group called Shut Down DC and were held to coincide with the opening of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York. They were demanding a halt to fossil fuel use and production and a switch to alternate energy sources.
However, the protests shut down some major intersections and created traffic problems in some parts of the city. DC police made multiple arrests during the event.
Giovanni Tamacas, a spokesperson for protesters who blocked traffic just three blocks from the White House, told The Hill that the demonstrators were using civil disobedience because more traditional forms of peaceful protests such as permitted rallies and petitions weren’t having enough of an impact.
“You don’t get mad at the fire alarm for waking you in the middle of the night when there is a fire in your home. You don’t get mad at the fire alarm. You act,” Tamacas told The Hill. “That’s what we are. We are the voice. We are the fire alarm for our burning planet.”
Banks said that his bill was intended to address the felony or misdemeanor offenses that arise from these types of protests.