Letter: Protect your rights, HB 22 is a bad bill

Image of protesters and police
Photo by Koshu Kunii

My beloved community,

The Ohio Legislature has introduced a bill (HB 22) that will have terrible consequences for the Black and brown community, and for American democracy. HB 22 is currently in the House Criminal Justice Committee. Legislators are proposing to amend the law to expand the offense of obstructing justice to include failure to follow a lawful order from a law enforcement officer or diverting a law enforcement officer’s attention. There are laws on the books that address those issues; HB 22 is nothing but an overreach aimed at obstructing and silencing the voices of our people.

Some quick highlights of this terrible bill:

  • If you question an officer while he is detaining a citizen, you can be charged with obstruction. And if the person being arrested or detained is charged with a felony, you can be charged with felony obstruction.
  • If you take video of the incident and law enforcement tells you to stop — and you refuse — you can be charged with obstruction.
  • If the police show up in your front yard and you come outside to ask them what they are doing, and they respond by telling you to go back into your house — and you refuse — you could be charged with obstruction.

Why the rush to get this bill passed as quickly as possible? Because the sponsors and co-sponsors of this legislation hope no one is paying attention so they can rush it through. But even with short notice, 40 groups and individuals testified against it while only five testified in support of it.

The irony is as thick as it is cruel: By expanding the definition of “obstruction of justice,” this proposed law obstructs justice for all, but especially for Black citizens who have endured centuries of unequal justice, discrimination and systemic racism. If you outlaw the documentation of a crime, you are in practice outlawing those who bear witness to those crimes. And in a world without witnesses and video evidence, there is no outrage, no protest and no calls for justice — and that is exactly the point of this proposed law.

Make no mistake: HB 22 is a clear-eyed response from state lawmakers who want to avoid another vividly documented “George Floyd-like” incident and the unwelcome scrutiny and calls for accountability it brings. But what these members fail to see is that by covering the eyes of those who bear witness to brutality and injustice, they blind us all to the healing power of truth.
 
And post-Jan. 6, we need more truth and more justice, not less.

We must act now, my friends! Here is a link to the bill and testimony related to it.

In solidarity,

Dr. Geraldine Hayes Nelson President, Portage County NAACP