Rev. Darryl Gray

Rev. Darryl Gray

If one conservative Missouri state senator has his way this legislative session, non -violent protesters in this state will be in danger, marked for death in some cases. I know that some will think that this is just hyperbole, another activist (protester) crying wolf.

The passage of Missouri Senate Bill 66, as it is currently being discussed and proposed in the Missouri Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence  Committee, could literary be used as a “death sentence”, a “get out of jail free card”, a “green light” for would would-be assassin (terrorist, vigilante, neo-nazi, bigot, or just angry by-stander) who might proclaim open season on non-violent protesters.

Since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, amid thousands of protests nationwide against police violence, dozens of drivers have plowed into crowds of protesters in intersections or marching on streets and highways. There have been more than 100 incidents of people driving vehicles into protests since May, including “96 by civilians and eight or more by police”, according to research at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats. There have been several fatalities, and at least 43 incidents were deemed “malicious,” with about 40 drivers charged.

Witnesses, law enforcement and terrorism experts said some of the vehicle incidents appear to be targeted and politically motivated, while others are just frustrated motorists.

One of the more “clear-cut” cases of malice, was in June in Lakeside, Virginia. An avowed Klansman drove up to protesters, revved his engine, then drove into the crowd, wounding one person. He was charged with four counts of assault with hate crimes, two counts of felonious attempted malicious wounding and one count of felony hit and run.

Video of many of the vehicles ramming into protest crowds have circulated on white supremacist websites, with hate-filled commentary on videos shared to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Brattin’s legislation (if you can call it that) would shield drivers who willfully choose to run over protesters, if that motorist “fears for their lives” and/or “exercised due care” while doing so. It makes it legal for a non-law enforcement official to use “deadly force” against “protesters” entering private property. The McCloskey case comes to mind. Much of the so-called “fear” is going to come from racism and bigotry.

How dare anyone disturb their peace. I have personally looked down the barrel of their gun, one held nervously by a midtown millionaire who felt that the protest has come too close to her within her million-dollar, closed neighbor for comfort, and how dare we (protesters) interrupt her dinner, obviously wine included.

This is real, and it is personal, and it has happened right here in St. Louis.  I have been threatened, and have witnessed first-hand, other activists threatened by some angry, some frustrated motorists waiting at an intersection or on a highway trying to get to their next destination, and those motorists feeling that their “right to travel freely and unencumbered” has been violated.

They feel automatically entitled to the freedom that Black people were once denied, one that we still cry out for.

Don’t be fooled, this bill is a deliberate, frontal attack on democracy, freedom of speech and assembly. There is nothing hidden in its intent. It is solely for the purpose of threatening and intimidating those who would use civil disobedience to challenge the status quo and call for social change, police reform, accountability, transparency and justice.

Recently we honored the life and legacy of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Jr. There were those who didn’t agree with many of his methods to achieve civil and voting rights, but it was those same methods that helped to dismantle racism, destroy Jim Crow laws, end segregation, and combat racial hatred and bigotry.

I believe that this bill, if enacted, would vilify non-violent protesters, silence the dissent of many who simply wish to exercise their First Amendment rights. This bill should not be viewed as an “Anti-Black Lives Matter Bill, but that’s what it looks like, smells like, and reads like. It is intended to deter, and if Brittin, and people like him, have their way, destroy a movement.

The Rev. Darryl Gray is a civil rights veteran. He serves as the Social Justice chairperson for the Midwest Region, Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc.; and social justice co-chairperson of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri.

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