The massive marches against racial injustice and police violence after 2020's killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Protests on Native American land against the Dakota Access pipeline. The January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Arguably, these three events have little in common with each other, except that now they've inspired some bad ideas and worse legislation in a number of statehouses and on Capitol Hill most, although not all, from Republicans that would criminalize one of the most fundamental rights in American democracy, to dissent against the government.
The biggest gut punch to the American Experiment came last week in Kentucky, which just this Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the senseless killing of Louisville's Taylor, a 26-year-old ER technician who was gunned down in a police drug raid gone horribly wrong. It's bad enough that none of the responding officers has been charged in her death. But now state legislators in conservative Kentucky, which has seen continuous protests since the killing, have advanced a law of dubious constitutionality to make it illegal to say bad things to a cop.
The bill that the Kentucky Senate passed last week makes it a misdemeanor to taunt a police officer, with words or gestures, "that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person." In the past, state jurists and the U.S. Supreme Court have cited the 1st Amendment in finding that it's not a crime to say rude things or even curse at a police officer, but now the Bluegrass State is saying that if you flip the bird at a cop and he tries to bash in your skull, the whole thing was your fault.
Although the anti-taunting-the-police provision garnered the most headlines, the Kentucky bill also expands the definition of illegal protest while strengthening the penalties for "rioting" and making it harder to get out of jail, and it even includes some vague language intended to thwart the "defund the police" movement. If the bill passes the state House and is signed by the state's Democratic governor, Andy Beshear (an uncertain prospect), it would surely put more people behind bars for protesting the killing of Breonna Taylor than people who actually killed her.