WACO, Texas — As part of his pledge to "Back the Blue," Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a new plan Thursday aimed at cracking down on riots associated with protests across the state.
In the announcement, Abbott said he will propose legislation which would create harsher punishments for those involved in riots like the ones in Dallas and Houston following the death of George Floyd.
"Texas will always defend the First Amendment right to peacefully protest," Abbott said. "But Texas is not going to tolerate violence, vandalism or rioting."
The proposed legislation would enhance punishment for several existing laws and criminalize others including:
- Anyone causing injury or destroying property as part of a riot to be charged with a felony.
- Anyone striking an officer during a riot will face a mandatory minimum of six months in jail.
- Anyone throwing projectiles or shining lasers at police will face a felony with mandatory jail time.
- Anyone using fireworks during a riot will face a criminal charge.
- Anyone who aids rioters with financial or organizational assistance will face a felony.
- Anyone arrested for their role in a riot will not be allowed to leave jail prior to their first court appearance.
"The Constitution does not provide the right to riot, to rob, to loot, to set fires, to physically harm anyone or anything," Abbott said.
Protests broke out in several Central Texas cities over the summer after the death of George Floyd, but none devolved into a riot.
"I think I was really impressed with Central Texas and the people," Michael Carpenter said. "I think they are generally good people who want to see change and want to do it the right way."
Carpenter helped lead a unity protest in Belton this summer. He said he fears the governor's threat to criminalize the act of organizing "riots" could convince some oppressed people not to participate.
"To me, it feels like that is oppression," Carpenter said. "That is going to deter people from doing events like that because [they think] "I can go to jail for something that somebody else did.""
Abbott's announcement does not make the legislative proposals law. Legislators must vote on them during the 2021 legislative session. The laws would then be subject to further legal review.