RICHMOND – This morning, as all eyes are on Washington, the Virginia Senate is due to take up Senator Richard Stuart’s (R-Westmoreland) bill – SB1055 – which proposes to make civil disobedience a jailable offense by raising the penalty for unlawful assembly from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Said Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), “Today – as we inaugurate as President a man who has already shown blatant disregard for our nation’s Constitution – the Virginia Senate is due to take up a terrible bill that further criminalizes dissent and that further waters down our First Amendment rights. Who is to decide what constitutes peaceful assembly and protest, and where the line is with a riot? If somebody throws a stone and smashes a store window, is every participant in the otherwise peaceful protest then guilty? This is a slippery slope in an era of uncertainty. We cannot stand for this invasion of our rights as citizens.”
Said Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), “Raising the penalty on unlawful assembly from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a jailable offense echoes back to the dark days before desegregation. That this bill reported from committee on Martin Luther King day is a disgrace. You are basically making civil disobedience a jailable offense, and that is a disgrace and not something we can stand for in the 21st century."
Said Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), “What we are doing here is imposing a pay-to-play cap on civil disobedience. Whether it’s a Black Lives Matter rally, or tomorrow’s march up in Washington, citizens have a right to participate and we need to be encouraging them to stand up for themselves and to stand up for accountability and transparency in government. Currently in the Code, all you need is a gathering of three people where somebody throws a rock for all three to be guilty of a misdemeanor – never mind what happens when you have critical mass and 99% of participants are peaceful. Then what? This is bad policy and it is even worse precedent."
Said Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), "Peaceful demonstrations are the core of our democracy. Through assemblies and marches women gained the right to vote and African Americans reminded us of what our Constitution should stand for. Putting folks in jail and fining them up to$2,500 is unconscionable."


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