Ohio Senate Bill 57, which would give police the power to arrest bystanders during riot emergencies rather than just ticket them, suffers from bad timing, considering all the protests surrounding the war in Iraq.
But we support this law's specific intent, which is to curb riots like the one that wracked Columbus after the Ohio State-Michigan game last fall.
Sen. Jeff Jacobson, R-Dayton, says he filed the bill in response to that incident, in which firefighters were pelted with rocks and debris, nine cars were overturned and more than 100 fires set.
During the riot, police had a hard time getting control of the crowd, not because there were a huge number of people committing crimes, but because crowds of milling bystanders kept cops from getting to places where crimes were taking place, Jacobson said.
Citizens must always retain their right to peacefully protest, but free speech does not extend as far as the destruction of property, assault and endangering public safety.
This legislation would help police control such behavior by creating fourth-degree misdemeanors in three areas:
Misconduct during an emergency.
Disorderly conduct that poses a risk of physical harm to others on a college campus that has at least 1,000 permanent residents or in a designated safe zone.
Four or more persons blocking a public street, road or highway.
A fourth-degree misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $250 or 30 days in jail. The offenses now are minor misdemeanors, which carry fines of up to $150.
Jacobson's proposal also eliminates the need for Ohio prosecutors to prove that individuals conspired beforehand to riot. Violators could be convicted of rioting if four or more people act together.
Citizens deserve the right to protest peacefully, but when protests get out of hand, authorities need laws with teeth in them to help curtail potential violence.
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