House Judiciary Committee approves anti-riot bill on party-line vote; Democrat calls it ‘racism and white supremacy’
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced HB 445, the anti-rioting bill sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris).
In a party-line vote, the committee gave a favorable report to the bill as substituted and then amended once. Reps. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) and Prince Chestnut (D-Selma) voted against the legislation.
The vote came after a public hearing on the bill last week; since then, Treadaway had been working with other members to help alleviate concerns that the legislation would have unintended consequences of negatively affecting First Amendment rights. The substitute was meant to address some of these issues.
The amendment adopted by the committee on Tuesday, proposed by Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne), would change the bill’s definition of riot to the following: “The assemblage of five or more persons resulting in conduct which creates an immediate danger of damage to property or injury to persons.”
The definition of riot introduced in the bill was originally: “A tumultuous disturbance in a public place or penal institution by five or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent which creates a grave danger of substantial damage to public, private, or other property serious bodily injury to one or more persons, or substantially obstructs a law enforcement or other government function.”
In a press release after the committee vote, the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) bashed the legislation, claiming it “would criminalize First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.” The SPLC’s release also spoke up for the rights of local governments to defund or abolish their law enforcement agencies.
England — also the Alabama Democratic Party chairman — thanked Treadaway for working towards a compromise on HB 445, however, the Democrat emphasized that he still has “several issues” with the bill even in its new form. England listed the mandatory minimums imposed by the legislation as one such issue.
While England pledged to continue working with Treadaway on the bill, Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) took a different tact. Walking out of the committee meeting room after adjournment, she declared, “Racism and white supremacy reign.”
In a gaggle with reporters afterward, Treadaway responded to Moore’s allegation that the bill promotes white supremacy.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s about protecting lives. And everybody is entitled to their opinion. I think if you look at the facts — I’m fact-driven, being a law enforcement officer 31 years — you look at the City of Birmingham, [the police force is] 70% African-American. These are men and women I’ve worked with — a very diverse department — for 31 years. This is not the ’60s.”
Treadaway underscored that peaceful protests during the civil rights era “did change the world for the good.”
“They also changed law enforcement for the good,” he stressed. “Are we perfect? No. But we strive to be.”
“We’ve got very diverse departments, very well-trained departments that are out here doing a very difficult job,” Treadaway added. “And again, we’re talking about folks — not peaceful protesters — we’re talking about when you start burning buildings, you start looting stores and assaulting police officers, these new laws kick in. And I really don’t think people disagree with that.”
This is not the first time this session in which a House Democrat blamed racism on a vote going against her. Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) tried this tactic after a bill of hers was voted down by the same committee in recent weeks.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn