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Oklahoma passes law protecting drivers who kill or hurt rioters

The bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday, also makes it a misdemeanor to obstruct a roadway or impede vehicular traffic.
Image: Black Lives Matter protest in Tulsa
Demonstrators march outside the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., on June 20, 2020.Charlie Riedel / AP

Oklahoma has passed legislation that protects drivers who unintentionally injure or kill people participating in riots.

The bill, signed into law by Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday, also makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and as much as a $5,000 fine, to obstruct a roadway or impede vehicular traffic.

House Bill 1674 was introduced after a viral incident last summer in which a pickup truck pulling a trailer plowed through Black Lives Matter protesters on Interstate 244 in Tulsa. Three people were badly injured, including a 33-year-old man who fell from an overpass and was paralyzed from the waist down.

District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler declined to file charges against the driver in Tulsa, saying several people in the crowd had attacked the vehicle with the driver’s children inside. He stopped short of endorsing proposals for harsher penalties for protesters or blanket immunity for drivers.

Rep. Kevin McDugle authored the bill that will do just that. "It’s not going to be a peaceful protest if you’re impeding the freedom of others,” McDugal said earlier this year, according to The Associated Press. “The driver of that truck had his family in there, and they were scared to death.”

The bill says that "motor vehicle operator who unintentionally causes injury or death to an individual shall not be criminally or civilly liable for the injury or death, if: The injury or death of the individual occurred while the motor vehicle operator was fleeing from a riot" and "The motor vehicle operator exercised due care at the time of the death or injury."

Oklahoma was not the only state last year that saw motorists drive through protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

A large truck drove at full speed into a crowd of protesters on a bridge in Minneapolis in May. No one was seriously hurt.

That same month, a man was killed after he was hit by a FedEx truck while participating in a demonstration in St. Louis.

In July, Summer Taylor, 24, was killed and Diaz Love, 32, was seriously injured after a man drove his car onto a closed Seattle interstate where demonstrators were gathered.

Other legislation targeting protesters has advanced in Arizona, Florida and Tennessee.