Senator’s proposed bill not the way to handle protests

(FORT WAYNE) NEWS-SENTINEL

State Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, is proposing legislation to fix a problem that doesn’t seem to exist. Furthermore, there is the potential to create difficulties that we don’t have yet. The legislature should take a pass.

Tomes’ bill is aimed at disruptive mass gatherings. It would give authorities 15 minutes to “dispatch all available law enforcement officers” after receiving a report of 10 or more people illegally blocking traffic “with directions to use any means necessary to clear the roads.”

It is that “any means necessary” clause that has critics rightly worried. It seems like an invitation for local authorities to go beyond accepted levels of zeal in dealing with those pesky protesters.

There is a delicate balance that has to be achieved in dealing with protests, one that maintains both the protesters’ right to be heard and the public’s right to go about its normal business. Tomes doesn’t seem to understand that his legislation would tip that balance too much in one direction.

Of course some of his critics don’t understand that balance, either. “We have stopped traffic for a short time during protests, with police cooperation,” said Sue Ellen Braunlin, co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice.”Often they will let us stop traffic and we have not had a problem. We’ve had a women’s rights march and a Black Lives Matter march, and it was all very peaceful and coordinated with the police.” But if some protesters are allowed to stop traffic “for short periods,” that is a courtesy, not a right.

Tomes says protester-instigated traffic obstructions create a nuisance, at the least, and could have graver consequences if an ambulance was prevented from reaching a hospital, or a firetruck was delayed in reaching a fire.

When asked, The Associated Press reported, Tomes could not cite specific instances where protesters prevented or delayed an emergency response. But he said he’s seen troubling scenes on the nightly news and thinks people are overcomplicating the issue.

We’ve all seen troubling things on the nightly news. That’s not a sufficient reason for introducing problematic legislation. Most jurisdictions already have laws on the books dealing with the obstruction of traffic. Leave it there, where it belongs. It’s not that complicated.

This editorial was distributed by the Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.