Saturday, March 23, 2019

Could Somebody Tell Me What "Riot Boosting" Means?

     South Dakota's Senate Bill 189, which just became law, makes "riot boosting" illegal.  I
Don't Suppress Them
think I get the idea behind the law's passage, but "boosting" is such a nebulous word that I'm wondering how enforcement of the statute can take place. SB 189 makes "boosting" another dimension of the law against riot-incitement already in the South Dakota books (22-10-6.1).  That law says  "any person who does not personally participate in any riot but who directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence is guilty of a class 5 felony."  By using the word "boost," the new law opens up those indirect participants to financial responsibilities for damages caused during the riots they "direct, advise and encourage." 
     There's a reasonable element of objectivity to the existing law.  "Directing, advising, and encouraging" are activities that probably can be pinned down to specific individuals and maybe even organizations.  But SB 189 gets cloudy when it considers "boosting" to be an activity that can occur through "an employee, agent, or subsidiary." It opens a can of rhetorical worms that will no doubt be tested in the courts.  Consider that in 2017, the Sierra Club  announced that it was supporting Native American resistors of an oil pipeline crossing eastern Oklahoma.  If similar protests in South Dakota were supported by the organization and the protests turned violent and destructive, would the new law apply?  I'm certain the Sierra Club neither openly nor covertly supports violence, but if its sponsored demonstrations get out of control would the club be considered a "booster" of the mayhem?  Would the Sierra Club be considered an "agent" of its financial supporters, putting them in legal jeopardy?
     As compelling as these questions are, the larger point is how chilling an effect a law like this will have on those who legally demonstrate.  True to its intent, SB 189 will probably give potential activists second thoughts about gathering at protest sites, where passions can easily get out of control and, even if they don't, some incidental crowd management and damage repair expenses are likely to accrue.  Who pays for those?  As with its other question-raising elements, this dissent-stifling law is unclear and imprecise.  

1 comment:

  1. Any person who is of an age to remember the resistance mounted by state governments to avoid granting the rights integral to citizenship to African Americans is familiar with the assertion that the problem is 'outside' agitators. I swan those defenders of segregation would have welcomed the ability to file frivolous law suits against the ACLU or the NAACP. All this in defense of what Charlie Pierce so correctly labels "the continent-spanning death-funnel that would bring the world's dirtiest fossil fuel down through the most arable farmland in the hemisphere and to the refineries along the Gulf Coast, and thence to the world."