Last summer’s protests in Ohio triggered two lawmakers to file legislation for a second time that would increase penalties for rioting in the state.
The two have introduced what they call the Ohio Law and Order Act, which calls for felony charges for those who cause injury or property damage during protests that turn violent. Late last year, they introduced the same bill, but it failed to get out of the General Assembly before the session ended.
The bill calls for a charge of riot assault for anyone who recklessly causes physical harm during a riot. It’s punishable as a fifth-degree felony. The punishment increases to a fourth-degree felony or potentially a third-degree felony if the victim is a peace officer or a first responder. A charge of riot vandalism – also punishable by fifth-degree felony – will be assessed for damage to government property.
State Reps. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, a former police officer, and Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, introduced the bill last week. They both stressed it does not restrict the right to peacefully protest.
“The core message of law-abiding demonstrators is overlooked when vandalism, looting and violence occur,” Carruthers said. “This common-sense bill embraces our First Amendment right to peacefully protest while supporting law enforcement and protecting our communities.”
The bill has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice Committee, which has yet to hold a hearing.
The bill was prompted by riots which occurred during protests this past summer, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in May. Rioters damaged downtown businesses in many Ohio major cities and forced some businesses to shut down. Abrams and Carruthers hope that stricter punishments prevent such rioting in the future.
“Many of these businesses are not coming back, and jobs have been lost for good,” Carruthers said. “They’re suffering. These people are suffering. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
Abrams referenced the riots in Cincinnati in 2001, which began following the killing of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed African American, by Cincinnati police. Those protests lasted several days in April, leading to an estimated $5 million in damages to the city and to local businesses.
“They (Cincinnati police) are saddened by the lack of respect,” Abrams said. “They were there in full riot gear to protect the people. No one wants to get a brick thrown at them. No one wants to be shot at.”