RALEIGH, N.C. - Earlier today, the N.C. House of Representatives gave final legislative approval to HB 805, a bill vigorously advanced by Speaker Tim Moore in retaliation for last summer’s protests demanding racial justice and police accountability. The legislation contains several extremely harmful provisions likely to stifle free speech and the right to assembly, as well as harsh penalties and consequences for people charged at an officer’s discretion with “rioting.” The bill will now be sent to Governor Cooper.
Chantal Stevens, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, issued the following statement after the final House vote on HB 805:
“HB 805 forces North Carolinians to risk the immediate and long-term loss of our freedom, health, bodily autonomy, and economic security, at the broad discretion of law enforcement when or if we choose to exercise our constitutional right to protest.
“Speaker Moore's decision to make HB 805 his personal priority this session clearly sends the message that the demands of the Black community for transformative change have gone unheard by leadership.
“We urge Governor Cooper to defend North Carolinians’ right to protest and veto HB 805.”
Background Information and ACLU of North Carolina Concerns About Harmful Provisions in HB 805
It can be easy for someone to be charged with misdemeanor rioting. The law only requires a group of three or more people who are deemed "disorderly." If enacted, anyone arrested in a disorderly group is not able to see a magistrate to set bond like everyone else. Instead, they must wait for a district court judge, which can take up to 48 hours depending on the time and location of the arrest.
Such treatment of people who are innocent prior to their day in court is reserved for murder, serious drug or gun offenses, threats of mass violence, and domestic violence. Even after seeing a judge, the person may have significant limitations on their liberty, including limits on where they may go or have bond denied entirely for an even longer period of time.
On Increased Penalties for Assault on Emergency Personnel:
It is not difficult to imagine people being charged with a higher felony as included in HB 805 for "assault" on emergency personnel during an emergency. The charges would apply not just during protests, but during any emergency. Assault is a low bar that is not hard to meet in a crowded or overwhelming situation. It could easily and unintentionally happen to anyone. As Kerwin Pittman, member of the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC), stated so well in public comments during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on August 10, 2021 (YouTube link here) - [portions paraphrased for brevity] "Why does this bill deter [people who may want to protest]?... I don't know how many of you have been in a protest. I just organized 100 or so days in Elizabeth City, North Carolina of protests... It is easy to brush up against law enforcement. It is easy to brush up against firefighters. But I may be charged with a felony - not only an I but an H now" - without even causing an injury.
On Inciting a Riot:
Inciting or urging others to riot is a very vague statute. Would this include something as small as texting someone to suggest they join a protest? Could it include saying to someone that you agree with why they're there to protest? Under this bill, someone could be convicted of a Class E Felony, an extremely high offense requiring active prison time for a first-time charge (see NC Sentencing Chart), if they "incite" a riot and then others in the crowd cause property damage. The "inciting" does not have to be a cause of the property damage; it only has to be a "contributing cause" of the riot itself.