Thursday, the North Carolina legislature gave final approval to harsher punishments for rioters as a response to 2020 protests over racial injustice that largely turned violent. The bill is now on its way to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who vetoed a similar bill in 2021. To override a Cooper veto, however, if Republican majorities remain intact, they may only need one House Democrat to join them if they gained enough seats in November.
In the House vote last month, six Democrats, including the bill’s chief sponsor, supported the measure. By a vote of 27 to 16, legislative action was concluded on Thursday in the Senate, where Republicans already hold a veto-proof majority. House Speaker Tim Moore championed the measure this year and in 2021, claiming that current laws failed to prevent rioting and looting in downtown Raleigh in June 2020, during otherwise peaceful protests following the murder of North Carolina native George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Social justice and civil rights advocates have opposed the measures at every turn, arguing that they target Black Lives Matter protesters and other marginalized groups by threatening them with imprisonment if they take to the streets peacefully. The bill would expand the existing penalties for participating in a riot or inciting one to include more severe circumstances, such as brandishing a weapon or causing serious bodily injury. Additionally, assaults on emergency personnel would incur harsher felony penalties. In addition, new crimes would be created for a rioter who causes a death or who incites rioting that leads to a death.
The bill would also allow property owners whose businesses are damaged during protests to seek three times the monetary damage from the perpetrator. Defendants accused of rioting or looting may be required to wait 24 hours before their bond and pretrial release rules are put in place, which, according to bill supporters, could result in a cooling-off period for the accused.