Rioting in Arizona could soon result in charges under organized crime laws, according to a new bill approved by the state Senate. Republicans want to crack down on “paid rioters,” while Democrats warned of “chilling” effects on protests.
SB1142 would make participating in or helping organize a protest that turns violent a criminal offense under the state’s racketeering (RICO) laws. Even those who have committed no overt action could be prosecuted on charges of conspiracy to riot, and their property seized under RICO statutes, AP reported.
The bill was proposed by Senator Sonny Borrelli (R- Lake Havasu City), who said it was needed to deter violent riots and go after groups paying protesters, according to Arizona Capitol Times.
Republican lawmakers pointed to the violence during President Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, DC, as well as the Berkeley, California protest against controversial speaker Milo Yiannopoulos that escalated into a riot.
The bill was needed to crack down on “full-time, almost professional agent-provocateurs that attempt to create public disorder,” argued Senator John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills).
“A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists,” Kavanagh said during the debate in the Senate on Wednesday. “But this stuff is all planned.”
“There’s a difference between a protest and a riot. And what we have been watching is riots,” said Senator Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake).
Democrats opposing the bill said it would establish guilt by association and enable the government to criminally prosecute everyone who participated in the protest and seize their assets.
“I’m fearful that ‘riot’ is in the eyes of the beholder and that this bill will apply more strictly to minorities and people trying to have their voice heard,” said Senator Andrea Dalessandro (D-Green Valley).
While peaceful demonstrations sometimes turn violent, the existing laws should be enough to punish those responsible, argued Senator Martin Quezada (D-Phoenix).
“When people want to express themselves as a group during a time of turmoil, during a time of controversy, during a time of high emotions, that’s exactly when people gather as a community,’’ he said. “Sometimes they yell, sometimes they scream, sometimes they do go too far.’’
Senator Steve Farley (D-Tucson) called the bill a “total perversion of the RICO process” and warned of “major Constitutional issues down the line” if it is passed into law.
Senator Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) called the claims of paid rioters “fake news.”
At the end of the debate, the Senate passed the bill 17-13, in a vote along party lines, sending it to the Arizona House of Representatives.