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Are crackdowns on protests in Georgia like this going to become much more frequent?
Under a newly proposed law in Georgia, protest tactics like picketing and sit downs will be made illegal and in some cases would be turned into a felony. Union-led protests, in particular, are targeted and violations of the new law could be punishable by prison time and fines up to $10,000.
The bill, SB 469, would clamp down on free speech and workers’ rights in several ways. First, it would outlaw picketing outside the home of a CEO or other top company officials, such as rallying outside the home of a sweatshop owner.
It also would allow businesses to ask a judge to halt the protests outside of a business. If the judge orders a halt and the picketing continues, the union members or protestors from other groups could each be slapped with a $1,000 fine.
In addition, any union or organization which "continues to sponsor or assist in the prohibited activity" would be subject to $10,000 fine. Businesses which think they suffered damage from the picketing could ask for a cut of that cash.
If for example, if protestors staged a sit-in, such as union and Occupy Atlanta demonstrators protestors did recently at a downtown AT&T building to protest the elimination of 700 jobs, they not only could be charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, but with conspiracy to commit criminal trespass--a felony that carries a one-year jail term and $10,000 fine.
Teamsters Local 728 has taken the lead in opposing the bill. Fulton County Sheriff Theodore Jackson said that the law is a bad idea:
In a letter to SB 469’s sponsor, state Sen. Don Balfour, Fulton County Sheriff Theodore “Ted"‘Jackson says the bill would turn law enforcement’s role "into a political one, where we would have to determine what protests do and do not fall under the definition of unlawful picketing under the bill.”
"The role of law enforcement should not be to police free speech. But the intent of the bill seems to be just that. By targeting only protests dealing with labor disputes, you are putting police officers in the difficult position of silencing the voices of Georgians and, in the process setting us up to face potential lawsuits that would ultimately be a paid for by taxpayers."
Jackson also says the bill would, “divert badly needed resources away from protecting Fulton County’s residents.”
Leaders of the faith community have also come out against the proposed law and say it would've crippled the civil rights movement.