It is amazing how events can change one’s perspective on things. First, there was the tragic shooting of an African American male in Charlotte, North Carolina, several months ago, which brought about numerous protesters who blocked roadways in exercising their First Amendment rights.
So, the extreme right of the Republican House, which has wrestled control of its party — seizing on the raw emotion of the moment and appealing to its far-right base — forced through the House (of Representatives) a bill called House Bill 330. It’s titled “Qualified Immunity for Hitting a Pedestrian during a Protest on a Public Street or Highway.” (Editor’s note: According to this bill, a driver can drive through a protest or demonstration that is blocking traffic, and as long as the driver exercises due care, the driver cannot be sued.)
Immediately, the bill had serious opposition — to include me. The Bill had little, if any, serious scrutiny through the committee process, and the bill as written was fraught with peril. It was not vetted and was so rushed that, like the recent gun bill that allowed purchases of handguns without training or mental background checks and carried great risks to the health and well-being of our citizens, it passed.
Last month, a car driven by a white supremacist, in Charlottesville, Virginia, slammed into a crowd, killing one and wounding several others.
Those who voted for House Bill 330 are now in quite a dilemma. They now must explain why they voted for a bill that would make such egregious conduct potentially free from suit. Can there be any legitimate reason that the person driving in Richmond should not be charged with murder? That is the principle behind this bill. It potentially exonerates a driver who plows into people.
In this era of divisive hatred and malicious conduct, we can ill afford to send any signal other than that such conduct will not be tolerated. That is not what our state legislature is doing. We ignore the fact that our schools are failing our children.
We ignore our water quality and its rapid decline. We have vast pollution in two of our major rivers — so much so that they are two of the top seven most polluted in the country. We ignore the fact that there is a pending opioid crisis in this state, and that we have four cities that fall in the top 20 in the nation for such abuse.
But the extreme right does far worse than stick their heads in the sand. Instead, they appeal to the worst fears of our nature by passing extreme laws, which further induce problems, such as cutting our Attorney General’s budget, which protects our citizens.
The events in Charlottesville should clarify for our Senate what the far right in the House of Representatives failed to see. You simply cannot permit a driver of a car to plow into any crowd. Yes, it may be inconvenient to wait for a crowd to disburse, but this pales in comparison to the protections of the First Amendment rights guaranteed our citizens under the Constitution.
Even more importantly, we must restrain ourselves from the temptation to use such a situation to divide us just to win an election. To quote one of our famous forefathers, Patrick Henry, “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” If ever there was a time, it is now. If we truly love our country, we must exercise restraint and tolerance. If we truly believe in our state, we must defeat House Bill 330 and other such legislation, and we must exercise wisdom and constraint and tolerance in our legislature and our legislative process. It is time for all good men and women to step up and become citizen statesmen and less partisan and less intolerant. We must be the leaders and examples to show our citizens how we can best live together and not rip each other apart over our differences that are, when it’s all said and done, baseless.
As John Kennedy once said, “We all inherit the same land, we all breathe the same air, we all want what’s best for our children, we are all, after all, mortal, and we all need to live together.”
It is time that we heed those words and start living in this country in a more tolerant and loving way.