Tags: riots | law | unrest | social justice | racism

Alabama Protest Arrest Will Test Rare '68 Anti-Riot Law

Alabama Protest Arrest Will Test Rare '68 Anti-Riot Law
(Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 16 April 2021 11:14 AM

The case of an Alabama woman arrested during the civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody is testing a federal anti-riot law, nearly 50 years old, that is seldom prosecuted.

The 1968 law prohibits interference with police or firefighters during civil disorder, something that has become far more common in the past year after Floyd's death. Protests have continued in recent weeks amid the Minneapolis trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin, charged with murder in Floyd's death, and other shootings involving police officers.

Video shows Tia Pugh, 22, using a bat during a heated protest days after Floyd's death last year to shatter the window of a police car near the interstate in Mobile, Alabama. She now faces federal charges under the anti-riot law, Politico reported.

A senior counterterror official was sent from the Justice Department to Alabama to defend the prosecution of the law in court, a legal battle that can have far-reaching implications around the country.

Dozens of cases are using the statute to prosecute violations of protesters impeding the work of safety personnel at protests nationwide.

Pugh's attorneys argue the Civil Obedience Act, borne out of the civil rights protests from the 1960s, is racist.

"You can see what was on their minds by looking at the debate on the floor," attorney Gordon Armstrong argued in court, pointing to the words of avowed Democrat segregationist Sen. Russell Long, D-La., Politico reported.

Long never voted for the bill, and U.S. District Court Judge Terry Moorer noted the motivations of lawmakers have no bearing on the legality of a statute.

"The act is, in fact, clear on its face," Justice Department trial attorney Michael Dittoe argued, according to Politico. "It's racially neutral."

"Anything Sen. Long said has nothing to do with the act as passed."

The murkiness of the law does project to run afoul with some conservative legal experts, though, because a broken window is drawing a federal charge, potentially impacting the jurisdiction of state courts.

In addition to arguing the racial basis of the law, and it potentially being overboard, Armstrong appealed to conservative legal scholars with that argument, Politico reported.

"Unless there is some federal purpose, a legitimate federal purpose, then that's reserved to the states," he said.

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Politics
The case of an Alabama woman arrested during the civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody is testing a federal anti-riot law, nearly 50 years old, that is seldom prosecuted. The 1968 law prohibits interference...
riots, law, unrest, social justice, racism
378
2021-14-16
Friday, 16 April 2021 11:14 AM
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