The "Anti Aggravated Riot Act," which would create a classification of crime for assault of first responders as well as other laws adding to the definitions of what constitutes a riot, passed the Alabama House of Representatives.
HB 2, introduced by Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris), has been one of the most controversial bills of the legislative session.
The bill defines a riot as “the assemblage of five or more persons in conduct which creates an immediate danger of property or injury to persons.”
This resulted in hours of vigorous House debate over the bill. Many criticized the bill for its ambiguous use of language, including the possibility that a riot no longer has to be actually violent but rather includes any gathering of five or more people that could potentially become violent.
Further, the bill could allow large groups to be prosecuted for the actions of a few bad actors.
The bill also requires a mandatory holding period of 24 hours for anyone arrested for participating in a riot, as well as a compulsory 30-day minimum sentence.
The reason for the mandatory hold was because Treadaway said that during the Birmingham protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., people were waiting at the jails with a “sack full of cash” to bail out rioters that were arrested during those riots.
Treadaway claims that there are stipulations for considering a 24-hour hold. Still, many have argued that the stipulations are ambiguous and leave the interpretation up to the responding police officer.
“What I saw was individuals around the city planting incendiary devices, gasoline, sledgehammers, and bricks; this happened in the city of Birmingham," Treadaway said. "These items were placed in the shrubbery of buildings around the downtown area. These items were used against police officers, putting officers’ lives in danger. Buildings were set on fire, some of these buildings had 32 floors, there were folks working late, there were cleanup crews in these buildings, and they put many lives in danger.
“Folks, these laws are needed. If we don’t stand up and address this now. We will have more officers hurt and killed in the line of duty."
This bill would also provide that if a political subdivision of the state dissolves or defunds a local law enforcement agency, the political subdivision may not receive any state grant or aid money.
Rep. Neil Rafferty (D–Birmingham) asked Treadaway if it could be considered “damage of property” by stepping on the grass.
While Treadaway said that he had never seen that happen before, nothing in the legislation would prevent that interpretation.
Rep. Chris England (D–Tuscaloosa) stated that the section of the bill allows a 24-hour hold for people arrested for rioting.
“The 24-hour hold applies to everyone,” England said. “The definition doesn’t require you to do anything [illegal]. The perception is in the eye of the beholder. Even if you are lawfully where the law allows you to be.”
“It is alarming that the House passed a bill today that would allow for the indiscriminate arrest and mandatory minimum holding period for anyone who is even suspected of endangering property, regardless of whether any damage is actually done,” Dillon Nettles, director of policy and advocacy at ACLU of Alabama said. “This is a dangerously slippery slope leading towards the complete undermining of our constitutional right to protest.”
The bill passed the house with a vote of 75–27 and will now go to the Senate for approval.
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