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Ky. lawmakers resurrect bill to make it illegal to insult police, boost penalties for ‘rioting’

J. Tyler Franklin

A bill that would make it a crime to insult police and create additional protest-related offenses has resurfaced in the Kentucky legislature. A similar measure was filed last year but failed to pass out of the General Assembly.

This year’s legislation aims to enhance penalties for rioting and offenses committed during the course of a demonstration. People charged with any violations at, near or with knowledge of a riot would be held in jail for a minimum of 48 hours. Resisting arrest, normally a class A misdemeanor, would become a class D felony. People sentenced for their offenses would not be eligible for early parole.

State law defines a riot as “a public disturbance involving an assemblage of five or more persons which by tumultuous and violent conduct creates grave danger of damage or injury to property or persons or substantially obstructs law enforcement or other government function.”

Republican Sens. Danny Carroll and Mike Nemes first introduced a version of the bill last year. It followed racial justice protests against police killings of Black Americans across the country, including Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Neither of them responded to multiple requests for comment.

Antonio Taylor is a social justice advocate in Louisville who documented much of the 2020 movement in support of Black lives.

“The Republicans, their whole agenda is they do not want change to happen,” Taylor said. “They understand, they know that the landscape of America and how it looks and the power structure is changing, and they’re doing everything in their power to make sure that change does not happen.”

The measure would criminalize insults directed at law enforcement. It proposes making it a class B misdemeanor to accost, insult, taunt or challenge police from six-feet away or less. That includes using verbally offensive language. It carries a penalty of up-to three months in jail and a fine of no more than $250.

“It’s an attack on our First Amendment right to be able to express ourselves. It’s an attack on our human right, to have emotions and to have an expression of how we feel about people who oppress us anyway,” Taylor said.

The bill would also make it illegal to camp on state grounds between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. It explicitly states that people experiencing homelessness, as defined by the state, wouldn’t be criminally charged with unlawful camping. However, it doesn’t offer unsheltered residents any concrete protections from law enforcement.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter. A native Palestinian, she’s interested in issues of diversity, access and themes of inequality. Jumaa aims to engage with residents and amplify their voices to achieve accountability, meaningful change and a more equitable Louisville. She previously covered housing and evictions for NPR member station VPM in Richmond, Virginia, where she received regional, Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence in diversity, equity and inclusion — and in sound. The Virginia Associated Press Broadcast Awards also recognized Jumaa's reporting on Richmond’s public housing authority in its best continuing coverage category. She also published a series investigating two state museums’ records on matters of equity — both internally and to the public. When Jumaa’s not reporting on her next story, she’s likely making a mess in the kitchen, trying to find a body of water to swim in or spending time with her dogs Nico and Mr. Junior.
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