Bill to stop protests from blocking streets, bridges passes

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee bill sponsored by a Memphis lawmaker that will increase penalties for protestors who block roadways passed a vote in the state Senate on Wednesday.

The bill increases the penalty for intentionally blocking a highway, street, or “other places used for the passage of vehicles or conveyances” from a Class A misdemeanor, to a Class D felony.

The new bill will increase the penalty to a Class D felony, punishable by a term of imprisonment not less than two years, but not more than 12 years. A jury will also be authorized to assess a maximum fine of $5,000.

It will also allow a person who suffers loss or injury due to the blockage the opportunity to take action against the offender and recover compensatory damages. This means that organizers of the event will be held accountable for any deaths or injuries.

Sen. Brent Taylor (R-Memphis) pushed for the bill after Pro-Palestinian protestors shut down all lanes on the I-40 bridge in Memphis on Feb. 3.

Memphis Police showed up by the dozens on the bridge and across the Downtown Memphis riverfront as traffic was blocked in and out of Arkansas and Tennessee for two hours. No arrests were made.

Taylor penned a letter to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation pushing for an investigation after the fact.

Senator pushes for penalties, charges after protest on I-40 bridge

“The reason (the bridge has) become a frequent target is because there are never any consequences,” said Taylor. “Why the hell not go commandeer the Mississippi bridge, because police are apparently going to show up and say, ‘Please with a cherry on top, move, so traffic can continue,’” said Senator Taylor.

A woman also had to be air lifted off of the bridge during the shutdown after suffering from a severe stress anxiety attack. An ambulance had to drive up the opposite side of the traffic to reach the woman.

“I’m sure it caused problems for other people,” said the woman in a previous interview. “If you want to protest there’s ways to do it but to shut down an interstate and holding people hostage like that is wrong.”

“For me in any protest situation, I want to make sure people can have their voices heard but also want to make sure it’s done in a safe manner. When they went on the bridge, I immediately got in touch with our police department, looking at Real Time Crime Center to make sure we were monitoring the situation,” said Taylor in a previous statement.

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