(Headline USA) When massive riots erupted last summer, protesters swarmed out onto major roads and highways to paralyze traffic, putting themselves and drivers into severe danger.
This method sometimes resulted in drivers plowing through crowds, causing serious injuries and in some cases, deaths.
Now, Republican politicians across the country are moving to stop human roadblocks, proposing increased penalties for demonstrators who run onto highways and legal immunity for drivers who hit them.
The bills are among dozens introduced in Legislatures aimed at cracking down on dangerous activities.
“It’s not going to be a peaceful protest if you’re impeding the freedom of others,” said Rep. Kevin McDugle, the author of an Oklahoma bill granting criminal and civil immunity to people who hit criminals on roads. “The driver of that truck had his family in there, and they were scared to death.”
He referred to an incident in July in which a pickup truck pulling a horse trailer hit Black Lives Matter protesters on Interstate 244 in Tulsa.
Three people were seriously injured, including a 33-year-old man who fell from an overpass and was left paralyzed from the waist down.
In addition to blocking roads, Black Lives Matter demonstrators have taken over parks and vandalized streets and structures with slogans, while right-wing groups have protested peaceful at government buildings.
Now legislators in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah and about a dozen other states have introduced new measures.
The traffic-blocking tactic has attracted the most concern because of the obvious hazard.
In one particularly chilling incident in Minneapolis, a large tanker truck drove through thousands of protesters gathered on a closed highway. Remarkably, no one was seriously hurt, though a criminal complaint says at least one protester suffered abrasions.
Mark Faulk, a longtime Oklahoma activist who was arrested last year for blocking a roadway, said dramatic tactics are necessary to get people’s attention.
“The idea of escalating it to the point where you disrupt the convenience of the citizens and of the status quo, you have to do that sometimes to make a point,” Faulk said.
But Carmyn Taylor, 20, recalled the sight of a pickup truck bearing down on protesters spread across the six-lane I-244 in Tulsa.
“The most vivid thing I remember is when I got pulled to the ground. I remember seeing both sets of wheels run over my legs, which was a little traumatizing,” said Taylor, who suffered a broken leg and a sprained ankle. “For the first two weeks after the accident, I couldn’t walk.”
In Seattle, Summer Taylor, 24, was killed and another person was seriously injured in July when a man drove his car into protestors on a closed Seattle freeway.
A graphic video posted on social media showed the car swerving around several parked cars and slamming into the two protesters, sending them flying into the air.
In an incident in St. Louis in May, a 29-year-old man was dragged to his death beneath a tractor-trailer that drove into a sign-carrying group on a road.
Whether drivers face criminal charges in such incidents depends on the circumstances of each case, prosecutors say.
The tractor-trailer driver in St. Louis has not been criminally charged, while the driver of the car in Seattle has pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault and reckless driving.
District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler declined to file charges against the driver in Tulsa, saying several people in the crowd had attacked the vehicle with the driver’s children inside.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.