Following Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 and the January 2021 insurrections at the Capitol, legislators throughout the country have been tasked with finding ways to respond to calls for change. In Oklahoma, several recently authored bills during the 58th legislative session have been criticized for the hypocrisy of their approach to the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly in light of the insurrections at the Capitol.
One such bill is SB 834, written by Senator Blake Stephens (R-Tahlequah), State Senator Darrell Weaver (D-Moore), and House Representative Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow). This bill is classified as “Back the Blue” bill, according to its authors, who have stated that law enforcement officials are under attack by the “defund the police” movement and an overall “toxic environment.” This bill, which they argue will help with police recruitment and retention, would increase retirement benefits and compensation for various law enforcement officials.
In addition to the fiscal benefits that SB 834 would bring to law enforcement officials, it would additionally allow cities to approve blue lines painted in city streets. This notably comes only a few months after the city of Tulsa painted over a Black Lives Matter mural on the streets of Tulsa’s Greenwood District.
Sarah Gray, a political correspondent writing for the Black Wall Street Times, points out that Stephens, Weaver and Ford all failed to make statements responding to riots at the U.S. Capitol, particularly in light of assaults against officers.
Another bill, SB 560, written by Senator Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), amends Oklahoma’s self-defense law. It states: “A person, who lawfully is in an occupied vehicle that is approached and surrounded by a person or persons engaged in unlawful activity who has blocked the road, shall not be subject to criminal or civil prosecution for a reasonable effort to escape from the unlawful activity with or without damage to the vehicle.”
Dahm, the author of the bill, writes “I strongly support the right to peacefully protest, but when these protests turn violent, citizens should have every right to protect themselves and their property.” With this, SB 560 seeks to legally protect drivers fleeing from protestors. SB 560 seems to be in response to an incident in Tulsa in which a motorist drove through a crowd of people on the interstate protesting in support of Black Lives Matter. Although one man fell from the overpass and was paralyzed from the waist down, Oklahoma prosecutors did not charge the motorist.
This bill received overwhelming support in the Oklahoma Senate Public Safety Committee, only Senator Michael Brooks (D-OKC) voted against the measure. Notably, Nebraska, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island, Kentucky and Mississippi’s state governments have all introduced similar “hit and run” bills mirroring SB 560.
As Oklahoma strives to provide a clear direction for the state following increasing calls for change both from the left and the right, bills such as these are instrumental in reflecting the values of the state. Neither SB 834 nor SB 560 have been passed in the Oklahoma State House and Senate. SB 834 has passed in the Senate, but awaits to be seen in the House; SB 560 was voted on in a senate committee, but awaits to be seen in both the House and Senate. Visit http://www.oklegislature.gov/basicsearchform.aspx or contact your state representatives for more information about bills being authored in the Oklahoma State Legislature.