Assemblyman Dinowitz: Protesters who block roads are ‘terrorists’

Backs a bill that would criminalize acts disrupting speakers


Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has put his name on two bills that would criminalize disruptive acts of protest. One would make it a misdemeanor if protesters disrupt speakers at an event, while the other would charge protesters who block a public road or bridge with a felony for domestic terrorism.

“I don’t always put my name on a bill that’s in my committee, but I do sometimes,” Dinowitz said to The Riverdale Press speaking about the Codes Committee, where he is chair. “And I thought I wanted to put my name on these two bills because of the message that it sends out. And what the message is that we all have the right to protest but we don’t have the right to prevent other people from enjoying their rights under the constitution.”

In recent years the city has seen activists and protestors take to the street for issues such as climate change, Black Lives Matter and more recently pro-Palestinian groups blocking parades and bridges to call for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza.

Queens Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato is the sponsor of the bill that would make such protests interfering with traffic and public safety a class D felony and punishable up to seven years in prison. Dinowitz said that it’s “unacceptable” to block a highway or airport.

“What if you’re blocking the highway and you’re blocking an ambulance that’s taking a deathly ill person to the hospital and that person dies because you thought it was a good idea to block somebody’s ability to get through? That’s horrible,” he said.

“What if you’re trying to prevent somebody from going to the airport who wants to fly out to visit their dying relative and that’s their last chance to do it?”

Amato told City & State it was important for protesters to request permits from the city before holding demonstrations. She added that protest permits let the city and law enforcement agencies make the public aware of road closures in advance.

U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres told The Press he had some qualms with the language of Amato’s bill.

“Even though I believe in accountability for anti-Israel protesters who disrupt traffic, I would have real concerns about expanding the legal definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ beyond its historic meaning,” he stated. “When I think of domestic terrorism, what comes to mind is Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing.”

That act committed by two white supremacists at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in 1995 reportedly killed 168 people and injured 680. It remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the country.

“I would oppose the improper use of the word ‘domestic terrorism’ for the same reason that I oppose the improper use of the word ‘genocide’ or ‘apartheid,’ Torres said.

“Words matter, and we do the truth a disservice when we deprive words of their proper meaning and moral weight.”

The Dialogue and Decorum Act

The “Dialogue and Decorum Act,” sponsored by Queens Assemblyman Sam Berger, targets a person or group who is trying to shut down the speech of a speaker.

“I think we’re trying to protect the first amendment here, allowing both sides of any argument to have a deep voice, especially when they’ve taken the time to organize, reserve space and have to pay for that space,” Berger told the Press. “That whichever side you fall on any given topic, let’s say it’s pro-choice or pro-life, you should still have that space to speak about it.”

The 25-year-old who is the youngest New York assembly member told The Press the legislation did not spawn from recent pro-Palestinian protests. Rather it came from seeing the way his generation is heading when it comes to opposing viewpoints, he said. Fresh out of law school, he was inspired to define proper ways to protest and handle dealing with varying viewpoints.

“You can disagree with a speaker,” he said. “You can go outside, you can protest it, you can hand out pamphlets, you can say ‘that’s wrong’, you can talk in a Q&A. There are ways you can express your disagreement, your dislike, your distaste for someone’s viewpoint but taking away their freedom of speech by interrupting them, such that they can’t speak (or) disrupts the meeting so that the meeting can’t take place, that’s the problem.”

Berger’s bill was based on current California law. It would classify the act of disruption as a Class A misdemeanor punishable up to a year. He said in California many of those people get community service rather than jail time.

“This is not about locking people away for having opposing views,” Berger said. “This is saying you do not have the right to take away speech from another person and you should be removed if that’s your intent. If I’m talking and you’re talking at the same time, then no one’s talking.”

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera told The Press he is reviewing both Berger’s and Amato’s bills.

“While these bills do not have Senate sponsors, my team and I are reviewing them bearing in mind that it is critical to our democracy that we protect the right to free speech,” he stated. “Throughout our nation’s history, engaging in the right to protest has been a catalyst for important social change.”

Jeffrey Dinowitz, anti-protest, legislation, Assembly, protesters, rally, Ritchie Torres, domestic, terrorism