Oregon: Protest = Terrorism = Prison
April 3, 2003 1:40 PM   Subscribe

It Could Happen in Oregon: Protest = Terrorism = A Minimum of 25 Years in Prison
Proposed Oregon Senate Bill 724 is an anti-terrorism act that could jail street-blocking protesters for a minimum of 25 years by defining "street-blocking" as an act of terrorism. This act is being opposed by several different coalitions. You can find a copy of Senate Bill 742 online here. There is also an Acrobat PDF version of the bill available.

"Extra bling" points: Rapturists may wish to note that this bill seeks to amend "section 19, chapter 666, Oregon Laws 2001."
posted by Dunvegan (40 comments total)
...not to mention a House or Senate filibuster being redefined by this bill as a terrorist act.
posted by Dunvegan at 1:54 PM on April 3, 2003

This is completely alarming. I'm seeking political asylum in Tuvalu.
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:07 PM on April 3, 2003 [1 favorite]

Legislators say the bill stands little chance of passage.

"I just don't think this bill is ever going to get out of committee," said Democratic Senator Vicki Walker, one of four members on the six-person panel who have said they oppose the legislation.

posted by angry modem at 2:10 PM on April 3, 2003

Let's go protest against it!
posted by zekinskia at 2:12 PM on April 3, 2003

Well, it would certainly take care of those pesky abortion protestors that seek to block access to clinics, wouldn't it?
posted by boltman at 2:17 PM on April 3, 2003

boltman: heh.

but seriously, dosn't terrorism require, you know, the intent to terrorize?
posted by delmoi at 2:19 PM on April 3, 2003

God, this is like living in The Handmaid's Tale.
posted by padraigin at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2003

Terrorism = doing anything the gumment don't like

posted by zanpo at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2003

God, this is like living in The Handmaid's Tale.

seriously. and who knew those horrible mid-nineties authoritarian-future stallone movies would end up being prophetic?
posted by donkeyschlong at 2:30 PM on April 3, 2003

you know, that makes me sick, those protesters don't have the right to protest against the a war to protect their freedom to protest in this great free country where we have the right to protest
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 2:37 PM on April 3, 2003

I would like to ask Sen. Minnis if September 11, 2001 was significant to him because business, transportation, schools, and government were "disrupted".
posted by eddydamascene at 2:38 PM on April 3, 2003

my prediction:

within 5 years we will have a fullscale military dictatorship
When Democracy Failed: A Warning From History

posted by bureaustyle at 2:45 PM on April 3, 2003

Street blocking eh? I have always considered that a crime (tho calling it terrorism is pretty drama club) so I cannot say I am feeling very bent. What is being lost here except the (scare quoted) "right" to interfere with the freedom of your fellow citizens free movement?
posted by thirteen at 3:00 PM on April 3, 2003

So basically, if you have a parade and/or march without a permit and traffic is blocked, you are considered a terrorist. I would assume this affects all the monthly critical masses, May Day rallys, Marilyn Manson concert protests, anti-abortion rallys, large religious gatherings and other widely populated yearly events in the streets.
posted by lsd4all at 3:09 PM on April 3, 2003

the sky is falling, the sky is falling!
posted by angry modem at 3:21 PM on April 3, 2003

thirteen: the problem with this is that by calling something terrorism that isn't, and by attaching a 25 year to life jail sentence to it, you're explicitly removing rights granted by the US constitution, and violating basic human rights.

Or are you just trolling?
posted by bshort at 3:22 PM on April 3, 2003

do you all have permission to gather here and post comments? please disperse.
posted by th3ph17 at 3:23 PM on April 3, 2003

Would this apply to a Howard Dean Meetup that exceeds the legal capacity of the coffee house and results in slower service and cold coffee?
posted by wendell at 3:24 PM on April 3, 2003 [1 favorite]

Uh, ph17ip, I am always dispersed.
posted by wendell at 3:26 PM on April 3, 2003

Republican Senator John Minnis of Oregon is clearly a dangerous man. I pray that the general public does not have to learn his name in the years to come.
posted by son_of_minya at 3:28 PM on April 3, 2003

Or are you just trolling?
No, I just do not want to have my life interrupted. I do not think it is terrorism, but it is wrong. I really do not know if the punishment is out of line. It does seem rather harsh, but if I ever get stuck somewhere because ssome people think their right trump mine, I may not care what happens to them very much.

If it really is a constitutional question, and I do not think it is, that is for the courts. I do not believe free assembly means you can shut down a street on a whim. All imprisonment is a violation of a basic human right, be specific.
posted by thirteen at 3:31 PM on April 3, 2003

bureaustyle, your image is disrupting the free assembly of aligned comments.

Funny that you should choose, as a method of disruption, align='left'. Commie! Terrorist! Commie Terrorist!
posted by eddydamascene at 3:32 PM on April 3, 2003

Gosh...what if they were abortion clinic protesters?
posted by Durwood at 3:43 PM on April 3, 2003

"The 'fog of war' obscures more than just news from the battlefield. It also provides cover for radical domestic legislation, especially ill-considered liberty-for-security swaps, which have been historically popular at the onset of major conflicts."
posted by homunculus at 3:45 PM on April 3, 2003

thirteen: Well, as someone famous once said, "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose". So, yeah, blocking a street is totally worthy of getting smacked with a misdemeanor. Do it again? Smack them with a couple of days in jail or a hefty fine. Rinse, repeat. If someone keeps behaving badly, up the penalty. That's how the criminal justice system is supposed to work.

This law is promoting peaceable protest into the realm of rape, murder and treason. You're not sure that that's overkill? Please.

No one is suggesting that blocking streets shouldn't be punished, but handing out jail sentences that start at 25 years is overkill.

Oh, and the rights that this bill is trampling on? Well, start with freedom of speech, freedom of association, and throw in the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

Besides, once you outlaw peaceful protests burning people at the stake and punishing owners of black cats is not far behind.

Also, what are you so afraid of? That people will express unpopular opinions. Or, in the case of peace protesters, extremely popular opinions?
posted by bshort at 3:45 PM on April 3, 2003

Bore from within: if the bill passes, get out 3/4 of the people and send them all to jail. That will close the state down and no taxes will be paid. We already have enough states and this would be good for flag makers.
posted by Postroad at 4:03 PM on April 3, 2003

Also, what are you so afraid of? That people will express unpopular opinions. Or, in the case of peace protesters, extremely popular opinions?

I am afraid of having my rights violated. Almost always I agree with the people who are doing the protesting, but that does not mean I grant them the right to punish me because they are unhappy with whatever situation is going on.

I do not think the rights you mentioned apply, since they are not what is the core issue. You cannot protest in a bunch of places, the streets, operating rooms, etc. I do not think that is a peaceful protest, I feel it is about the most offensive thing they could be doing, so I do not mind seeing it punished. I suppose the real issue is if it works or not. If people stop blocking streets, I will have little to complain about.
posted by thirteen at 4:06 PM on April 3, 2003

Blocking the street in Portland is already a crime, thirteen, and is punishable as nuisance: P. C. C. 14A. 50.030.

Even so, this controversial code is somewhat disputed rationale.

The Portland police seem to have a curiously compulsive-obsessive fixation with the level of their exacting documentation of what does and does not comprise "street-blocking."

If you are not aware of how far along the Portland PD are in raising the assessment of "street-blocking" to a fine art, you may find this PPD PDF file on blocking citation criteria astonishing in it's attention to detail.

The photos alone are worth the price of loading the .pdf file.

What concerns me is the possibility that if you are a member of a protest, or just hanging out on the street sucking down your Omnipresent Daily Requirement of Starbucks beverage with a few chatty pals, under this new law you could possibly find your Frappachino-slurping behind facing more state penitentiary time than an Oregon murderer.

A summary of 34 murder sentences for murders committed between 11/24/1990 and 4/25/1995 and sentenced under sentencing guidelines: Average sentence: 200 months (16.6 years, 13.3 after "good time")
    Bubba [leering]: "I'm in for Murder One. Whachoo in for, Fish?" Sentenced Starbucks Seven Terrorist [deer in headlights]: "Felony Frappachino."
Then again, if this act has even a infinitesimally tiny chance of undermining our Evil Starbucks Overlords....nahhhhh, it's not even worth that.
posted by Dunvegan at 4:25 PM on April 3, 2003

Excellent post, Dunvegan.
posted by eddydamascene at 4:37 PM on April 3, 2003

Here are the images from the Portland PD criteria defining "street-blocking" that for some reason didn't appear in my post above:

Perhaps the originally posted images were simply too close together in a public place and were taken away to an undisclosed location for terrorist interrogation.
posted by Dunvegan at 4:49 PM on April 3, 2003

*nod* Good post, Dunvegan.

As a Portland resident -- well, it's damned inconvenient when those critical mass assholes block everything. If I drove an old beater of some sort, I'd have run a few of them over by now... I just don't want to scratch the paint on my new car.

I called my state senator yesterday and expressed my concern over this bill. She said that she'll chain herself to the door of the senate before she'll allow it to pass. I feel kind of good about that.
posted by SpecialK at 4:52 PM on April 3, 2003 [1 favorite]

Crime and Punishment:
In the case of Coker v. Georgia the Court ruled that a sentence of death was "grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment for the crime of rape and [was] therefore forbidden by the Eighth Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment" (Gardner, Criminal Law, 185). In 1984 the Supreme Court, in the case of Pulley v. Harris, went on to define appropriateness of punishment by stating:'Traditionally, "proportionality" has been used with reference to an abstract evaluation of the appropriateness of a sentence for a particular crime. Looking to the gravity of the offense and the severity of the penalty, to sentences imposed for other crimes, and to sentencing practices in other jurisdictions, this Court has occasionally struck down punishments as inherently disproportionate, and therefore cruel and unusual, when imposed for a particular crime or category of crime.' (Gardner, Criminal Law, 183)
This bill is pretty clearly unconstitutional.

posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:24 PM on April 3, 2003

As someone who lives in Portland and has been witnessing unfair police tactics for weeks now, this scares me to no end. initially, please note that this is a second draft of a bill that originally called for life imprisonment. it failed in committee as such, but has been amended a little and is back. something like this will pass somewhere at sometime, and it will be an ominous day.

they have created the crime of political jaywalking. basically, if you jaywalk, you get a ticket. if you jaywalk while thinking about politics you go to jail. with this law all of that subjectivity and inference about context will be used to determine who should get locked up for perhaps the bulk of their remaining lives.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:30 PM on April 3, 2003

First of all, I think we need to distinguish between peace protestors on the one hand, and assholes who act out under the cover of peace protestors. I watched (in Portland) a stray remnant of a finished protest march, consisting of about 20 idiots, pick an intersection more or less at random and block it for about a half an hour until the police showed up and ran them off. At no time did these fuckwits indicate that they were interested in anything but making trouble. Most didn't have signs, none had any audible message.

The same goes for the jerkwads who forget what protest they're in and break McDonalds' windows because they thought that was so cool during the WTO protests. Nothing to do with peace, these losers only come out during when honorable citizens hold a protest, and get them all condemne by their actions. The rest of the time they hang out under bridges.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:40 PM on April 3, 2003

I was wondering if anyone was going to take up for this measure.

Please note the following.

1. It's Already Covered

It is already against the law to block the streets and intersections. The existing statutes, in the most part, treat such as a nuisance.

2. The Proposed Punishment is Not Commensurate With the Crime of Obstruction
Average Felony Murder Sentence in Oregon: 16.6 years, 13.3 after "good time."

Proposed Felony MINIMUM Sentence for Obstructing a Street in Oregon: 25 years.

3. An arbitrary Law or What?

The photos above show the criteria currently used by the Portland PD for defining "street-blocking."

I think I see people doing "Prohibited" things every day in San Francisco. Milling around waiting for a commuter bus in the Financial District at about 5:00. Just try wading through a crowd of suburbanites who want their favorite seats on the bus home...they ain't about to give an inch of ground in their sidewalk queue to a pedestrian.

And Heaven help the poor sap caught leaning at the end of a long day, or with a leg cramp, against an urban sapling.

The proposed law is too broad. It allows for confining nearly anyone over half their probable life span in a state penitentiary at anytime for nearly any behavior.

We're talking...
    Being Identified as an "Enemy of the State," e.g., a Terrorist Removal to the State Penitentiary A Minimum of 25 Years of Hard Time The crime: Inconveniencing You
This law seems very little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to destroy the fabric of freedom in the service of "order." It cynically invokes the fear of the 911 attacks and public distaste for "inconvenience" to create a 1984-like government apparatus. One that could just as easily put away either targeted groups engaged in what a police department considers inappropriate gathering nearly permanently...or give you citation as a terrorist along with a ticket for a quarter of a century behind bars for leaning on a tree.

What's really scary to me are the people that don't find 25 years of hard time for "milling behaviors" scary.

Although it is highly doubtful this act will pass into law, it's progress should bear extremely close scrutiny.
posted by Dunvegan at 6:18 PM on April 3, 2003

Equating the inconveniencing of commuters (although it should be understood emergency traffic needs clear passage) to acts of terror is above and beyond absurd. Call me crazy, but I smell a complete silencing of the masses; a power-mongers dream. How can we not protest this? Or this. Or even this.

So it will probably be defeated, but how much longer are we going to allow this mentality to run our governments? It's just becoming so damn exhausting already, and I for one find this type of introduced legislation an act of terror against us all.
posted by LouReedsSon at 6:33 PM on April 3, 2003

Dunvegan, I hope you aren't taking my posting to mean that I approve of this Stalinistic measure, I don't do anything of the kind. (Though it wouldn't be the first time that someone here thought I was approving of something evil because, feeling that the chorus of disapproval was doing a perfectly adequate job, I posted something that didn't bother to add to it.)

This measure is contemptible all around, but note in particular these words: "...plans or participates in an act that is intended, by at least one of its participants, to disrupt..."

In other words, according to this piece of crap it would take only one "participant" to turn everyone in a civil demonstration into a terrorist! What is the definition of a "participant"? Anyone who shows up? So if you hold a peaceful protest, and I show up too, and smash a few shop windows, does that mean that everyone in your protest is responsible for my actions?

Don't get me wrong, no part of this measure is sane. But that part in particular is tailor-made for undercover agents provacateurs to not merely discredit a protest but turn it into an apparent felony.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:09 PM on April 3, 2003

We've already seen evidence that this Supreme Court will take the position that anything vaguely defined in the constitution may be defined as practically meaningless, so I don't think we can count on being 100% certain about any law passed being ruled unconstitutional. See the ruling on the extension of the copyright law as an example. There are others. I see every reason to fear that a future, more Bush Supreme Court would use that logic in such a way that they might find that no punishment for any crime is unconstitutional as a result of being disproportionate, regardless of the many precedents.

I'm not a paranoid person. I don't think the Supreme Court as currently constituted would uphold the bill in question. But I do believe that there are judges on the Supreme Court who would rule that the death penalty is not an unconstitutional punishment for jaywalking on the grounds that the constitution doesn't define "cruel and unusual punishment."
posted by gspira at 8:33 PM on April 3, 2003

Point taken, George. Don't mind me...I'm obviously just ranting at the choir.

We've had a lot of "black block" break-away protesters doing some damage down here in San Francisco. My partner and I even followed the progress of one group down the street from us in the Financial District with our DV camera.

Odd thing: just as we were filming a group of about six black bloc members who'd stopped to do the right thing and right some newsboxes that had been knocked down by other "less neat" bloc-heads...we then zoomed in on the police down the block suddenly opening the trunks of their squad cars and donning riot gear.

It was a sad contrast, to say the least.

Thanks for the clarification, George.

Let me go and do something useful, like look up this fellow Oregon State Senator Minnis and see what other high-handed shenanigans he's up to...either that, or hike out and buy 4000 feet of chain for SpecialK's state senator.
posted by Dunvegan at 8:43 PM on April 3, 2003

gspira: "three strikes and you're out" can produce punishments just as disproportionate as the one in question here. Yet just a few months ago the Supreme Court upheld it against an Eighth Amendment challenge.

Add to that the great deference that the Renquist Court will generally give to states in areas of traditional state authority such as a criminal law, and I'd wouldn't be at all surprised if the Surpreme Court upheld such a measure, especially since you know Ashcroft and his evil henchman Ted Olsen would vigorously support it as an essential anti-terrorism measure.

It's possible you might win over Scalia and Thomas on the implications for abortion protestors, but I'd still put my money on a 5-4 decision in favor of Oregon, were this bill to become law.
posted by boltman at 8:58 PM on April 3, 2003

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