In an attempt to address recent protests in Seattle, Washington State Sen. Doug Erikson of Ferndale has proposed a bill that would create a new class C felony called “economic terrorism.” This bill would allow felony prosecution of those who disrupt economic activity in a variety of ways, such as by blocking transportation like cars or railways, threatening jobs, and/or damaging private property.
Senator Erikson claims that this bill is not designed to prevent peaceful protesting such as picketing, organized marches, or strikes. Rather, this bill is targeted at those who “intentionally break the law in an attempt to intimidate or coerce private citizens or the government by obstructing economic activity.” The bill would also apply to those who fund, sponsor, or organize such activity.
The Washington American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is concerned with the bill due to its vague language and the potential it has to be used indiscriminately. In a public statement, ACLU spokesman Doug Honig responded to the senator's proposal by saying his organization is “already concerned that some of its loose terms appear to be targeting civil disobedience as ‘terrorism.'” He also brought up the fact that civil rights protestors in the South were seen by segregationists to be “trying to ‘coerce' business and government.”
Environmental activists are particularly worried about the potential effects of this bill. The Seattle Times reports that Senator Erikson has said that he is “aiming at punishing environmentalists, tribal activists, and others who have illegally obstructed oil and coal trains, pipelines, and similar projects.”
In the state of Washington, certain laws already prohibit various types of violent demonstration and property damage. Under Washington State Law Chapter 9A.84, criminal mischief, failure to disperse, and disorderly conduct are all currently considered misdemeanors and punishable with a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine.
A person can be charged with criminal mischief if, acting with three or more other persons, he or she knowingly and unlawfully uses or threatens to use force, or in any way participates in the use of such force, against any other person or against property. This crime becomes a class C felony if the actor is armed with a deadly weapon.
One can currently be guilty of failure to disperse if:
- He or she congregates with a group of three or more other persons and there are acts of conduct within that group which create a substantial risk of causing injury to any person, or substantial harm to property; AND
- He or she refuses or fails to disperse when ordered to do so by a peace officer or other public servant engaged in enforcing or executing the law.
If you are facing a criminal charge in the state of Washington, regardless of the circumstances of your arrest, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.