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Democracy North Carolina Urges Lawmakers to Protect Right to Protest

MORRISVILLE, N.C. (2/3/2023) – On February 1, the first day of Black History Month, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore introduced House Bill 40, legislation aimed at criminalizing protest, stifling free speech, and discrediting First Amendment rights by imposing harsh criminal penalties on our state’s already vague and problematic “riot” laws.

HB40 would increase penalties for bodily injury or property damage incurred during a “riot,” yet lacks any written specifications for how to determine if a protester caused damage or harm, likely resulting in indiscriminate arrests. As in its original form, introduced in 2021 as a response to Black Lives Matter protests, HB40 could aid in misrepresenting protests as violent or dangerous acts, regardless of the circumstances. Serious charges could be brought against anyone who gathers and meets the definition of “inciting a riot,” even if they haven’t physically harmed anyone or damaged property.

HB 40 passed its first reading and now heads to Judiciary 2 House Standing Committee, to be reviewed as early as next week.

“Days after millions gathered across the nation to demand justice for Tyre Nichols, and here in North Carolina for Darryl Tyree Williams, this was our lawmakers’ response. The tenor and timing of such legislation cannot and should not be ignored,” said Cheryl Carter, Co-Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina. “How many times must we re-experience harm brought about by state-sanctioned violence? How many times must we hear an explicit message – particularly aimed at those in the Black community – to stay in line or pay the ultimate price? It’s disheartening and disturbing to be sold something as a means of protecting communities, while knowing full well that such legislation could have devastating, far-sweeping effects. Time and again, we see coded language to describe movements as ‘riots’ and ‘violent,’ even when it’s not protestors that are violent, but the violence committed on them. We must continue to place people over buildings and people over politics, and ensure we keep the right to join our brothers and sisters in protest where it belongs: at the heart of a functioning democracy.”


Democracy North Carolina is a statewide nonpartisan organization that uses research, organizing, and advocacy to strengthen democratic structures, build power among disenfranchised communities, and inspire confidence in a transformed political process that works for all.