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Our Opinion: Right to protest must be ensured, but so must safety

Our Opinion: Right to protest must be ensured, but so must safety

May 2nd, 2018 by News Tribune in Opinion

While we agree with the Missouri NAACP that the legal right of Missourians to protest must be preserved, we draw the line at protests that could endanger the public.

The group opposes a bill by Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, that would make it a Class A misdemeanor for a protest that results in the obstruction of an interstate highway or limited access highway — or in the unreasonable and physical obstruction of emergency services personnel.

The penalty comes with a fine of $1,000-$5,000 or a jail sentence from seven to 30 days.

Rod Chapel, president of the statewide organization, said a bill sponsored by Riddle is an effort "to ensure that Missourians are silenced."

We don't believe that's the case.

The unspoken impetus of Riddle's bill is the protests in Ferguson over the police shooting death of Michael Brown. After the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting, protests roiled the St. Louis suburb for weeks. Many people were — and still are — divided over whether the shooting was justified.

But we shouldn't be divided over the fact the protests were, at times, unlawful and dangerous. So was a shutdown of Interstate 70 on the anniversary of the shooting.

A St. Louis woman was charged with felony property damage, trespass and peace disturbance. She had attacked an SUV driver who attempted to push past her and other demonstrators blocking I-70 in Earth City.

But it could have been much worse. I-70 is a dangerous enough road as it is. Shutting down the busy highway for a protest — regardless of the cause — has the potential to put motorists' lives at risk. Such a shutdown also can block emergency vehicles from responding to life-threatening incidents.

Endangering people with your protests should come with appropriate consequences. We believe Riddle's bill would accomplish this.