Politics, Moderate



Legalizing vehicular violence

Catherine Rampell on

Because that's exactly what these bills do.

The bills all include language about how drivers who injure or kill protesters must have done so "unintentionally" or while exercising "due care" if they wish to be spared liability. (Hitting protesters intentionally, as the Charlottesville driver appears to have done, could still make one subject to civil and criminal liability.) Even so, the foreseeable effect of passing laws like these would be to change the calculus for any frustrated driver considering whether to plow through a crowd of protesters.

Economists tend to think about decisions in terms of expected costs and benefits. By lowering the expected costs to the driver, these proposed laws would tilt the balance in favor of hitting people.

And not just any people. Protesters specifically.

In five of the six states where bills were introduced, the legislation would shield drivers who hit protesters or demonstrators only. Drivers who kill pedestrians who are not out exercising their First Amendment rights would still be subject to the usual criminal and civil liabilities.

In other words, the purpose of these proposals was to make acts of protest, and acts of protest alone, more lethal.

So far none of these bills has made it into law.

Already, though, white supremacists have latched on to the rhetoric behind these bills to excuse Heyer's death. In "Vice News Tonight's" chilling Charlottesville documentary, neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell said her murder was "more than justified" because the driver was provoked by "stupid animals" who attacked and then "couldn't just get out of the way" because they weren't paying attention.

Surely the whataboutists will claim the left's angry "resistance" rhetoric encouraged someone to attempt to murder Republican legislators. To be clear, that act was also evil. There is, however, no comparison between mean words and changing the law to indemnify people who kill others in a highly specific way.

As I've previously argued, there's plenty of blame to dump on President Trump for emboldening white supremacists and for encouraging violence against peaceful protesters. But to treat him as an aberration in encouraging violence against protesters -- in particular, liberals and people of color -- is flat wrong.

The moral rot in the Republican Party runs deep.

Maybe the state legislators who introduced these bills are malevolent, and maybe they're just morons. In politics, I tend to err on the side of the latter explanation. Either way, they advocated reckless bills whose foreseeable consequence would be increased vehicular killings.

These politicians are not fit to serve the public, in any level of government.

Residents of North Dakota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Rhode Island: Look these goons up and vote them out.


Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group



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