Jan 16, 2024 - News

NC Republicans move to punish protesters who block interstates

Protesters block the northbound lanes of the Durham Freeway at the South Magnum Street bridge for hours Thursday evening, Nov. 2, 2023, while demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza War as police warned of arrests. Photo: Travis Long/The News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Four North Carolina congressional Republicans have moved to prevent protesters from blocking roads during protests.

Driving the news: Under the Safe and Open Streets Act, which U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis filed in the Senate and U.S. Reps. Chuck Edwards, Richard Hudson and David Rouzer filed in the House in recent weeks, it would be a federal crime to block public roads or highways.

  • If the measure becomes law — and it has a long way to go before doing so — violators would be subject to fines and up to five years in prison.

Why it matters: The bill's filing comes on the heels of a high-profile protest in Durham in November, in which demonstrators blocked the Durham Freeway during rush hour for two-and-a-half hours, demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

  • The incident sparked rage among Republicans, including Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who accused law enforcement of "coddling lawlessness."
  • Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said the governor and the City of Durham had "coddled Hamas sympathizers," though the protest was organized by the group Jewish Voices for Peace.

What they're saying: "Protestors do not own the roads, and their tactics are endangering the safety and livelihoods of our citizens," Edwards said in a release Thursday.

  • "These protestors' reckless actions can place lives at risk in an emergency and should be a federal crime. The Safe and Open Streets Act will help prevent incidents like the recent one in Durham, as well as those a few years ago in Asheville, from happening again in North Carolina and elsewhere."

Zoom out: Lawmakers also pointed to protests in New York City and Los Angeles where demonstrators have blocked roadways.

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