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Senate Committee Debates Bill Criminalizing Many Protesters

Stand With Black Women protesters

Sen. Mike Young’s (R-Indianapolis) legislation is aimed at the 2020 Black Lives Matters protests in Indianapolis. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Legislation debated in a Senate committee Tuesday would turn almost anyone who participates in a protest that turns violent into criminals.

Sen. Mike Young’s (R-Indianapolis) legislation is aimed at last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests in Indianapolis.

Among the bill’s provisions is making violating curfew a Class B misdemeanor, which could be up to 180 days in jail. It also says that if anyone at a riot is killed, all of the rioters could be charged with felony murder. And if a protest turns violent, anyone at the protest can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor unless they immediately leave or alert police – whether or not they were involved in the violence.

Michael Moore, Indiana Public Defender Council assistant executive director, said the bill casts too wide a net around people at protests.

“Make them criminal when in fact they were just bystanders, committing no criminal act, just happen to be there – witness an act or be in the presence,” Moore said.

The Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and the Hoosier State Press Association also opposed the bill.

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana's Legislative Session? Here's Your Guide To Demystify The Process

The only group in support was the Fraternal Order of Police, represented by Ed Merchant.

“It’s common sense. It’s needed," Merchant said. "It’s needed. It’s needed years ago and it’s even more necessary today.”

The bill will undergo changes in the coming weeks – but it’s unclear what those changes will mean.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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