JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – In preparation for his second legislative session, State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis City, has filed a number of measures aimed at addressing issues including crime prevention from the root cause, recidivism and job training in the Missouri Department of Corrections through House Bill 1579, public school education, charter school accountability through House Bill 1580, police and gun owner accountability, funding for youth violence prevention programs through House Bill 1585 and automatic voter registration legislation in the form of House Bill 1584.
One of the more prevailing issues Franks has worked meticulously to solve is the issue of unjust retaliation by law enforcement officers during peaceful protests. Following the tragic death of Michael Brown in 2014 and the recent Jason Stockley verdict, Rep. Franks participated in multiple demonstrations across the St. Louis-area and experienced firsthand the violent nature of the tactics utilized by police officers amid the non-violent protests. As a result, he was motivated to sponsor House Bill 1586, also known as the “Protestors’ Bill of Rights”.
“The actions displayed by our law enforcement officers are unacceptable, period,” said Franks. “It’s unfortunate that the individuals who are trained to shield and protect us are the ones inflicting the most pain, and on what grounds exactly? It couldn’t be due to the assault of an officer or trespassing because it is extremely difficult to claim protesters are trespassing on an area our taxpayer dollars go towards, especially when we work hard to maintain very organized and safe demonstrations.”
Under the “Protestors’ Bill of Rights”, no department or law enforcement agency in the state of Missouri shall:
- Declare an “unlawful assembly” unless there is an imminent threat of violence.
- Declare an “unlawful assembly” for the purpose of punishing people for exercising their constitutional rights to engage in expressing their First Amendment rights.
- Use chemical agents against anyone nonviolently expressing their First Amendment right to protest in the absence of probable cause to make an arrest. The city must also issue clear and unambiguous warnings that the person is subject to arrest and such chemical agents will be used.
- Use or threaten to use chemical agents as punishment against anyone nonviolently expressing their First Amendment rights.
- Issue orders or use chemical agents, whatever the method of deployment, for the purpose of dispersing people in nonviolently expressing their First Amendment right to protest, without issuing loud and clear orders to let people know that dispersal is required, and what the consequences of failing to disperse are including, where applicable, that chemical agents will be used.
The ACLU of Missouri were also outraged by the events that have taken place and in September filed a lawsuit on behalf of protesters claiming that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department violated the civil rights of protesters by using chemical agents in retaliation and failing to provide them with a way out. A federal judge recently ordered that the department cease practice of the current tactics and develop new procedures.
“Thanks to the courageous efforts of our protestors, live streamers and ACLU to have our 1st amendment rights upheld, we were able to invoke some much needed change to our law enforcement policies. Unfortunately, the work doesn’t end here,” said Franks. “It’s not about going against the law. It’s about standing up for what’s right while preserving our rights and seeking justice for those individuals the system has failed time and time again to protect.”
This story originally appeared on The Missouri Times.