When Kentucky Rep. Attica Scott, the only Black woman in the state’s legislature, was arrested at a protest last month, she assumed she’d been booked on a curfew violation.
Instead, Scott and 17 other racial-justice protesters arrested alongside her were booked on a much more serious charge: rioting. The allegation was they had marched near—that is, proximal to—someone who vandalized a library.
Even local prosecutors couldn’t stomach the case: On Tuesday, the county attorney who brought those charges announced he was dropping them, calling them too hard to prosecute.
Now a fellow state lawmaker is taking aim at the murky riot law that led to the mass arrests in the first place, an effort to help stem the tide of harsh crackdowns on protesters across America.
Scott was arrested hours after a prosecutor declined to press charges against any cop for the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot to death by Louisville Police officers during a botched attempt to serve a warrant on her home in March. Police obtained a warrant for a “no-knock” raid (later changed to a “knock and announce” raid) on Taylor’s home and, while details about how police actually entered remain in contention, a prosecutor announced charges against one cop for firing into Taylor’s neighbors’ walls.
The announcement, which did not include charges for shooting Taylor, sparked a national outcry, especially in Louisville, where a mass of marchers took to the streets, over 100 people were arrested, protesters were pepper sprayed and hit with flash-bangs, and two cops were shot.
Amid the chaos, someone broke a library window and threw a flare inside. Local media that witnessed the library vandalism said it was the work of one person, not a group. Nevertheless, Louisville Police—whom Scott and others were protesting—arrested them on the grounds that they were “part of a large group” allegedly involved in that act.
It didn’t matter that Scott and others—including her 19-year-old daughter Ashanti and prominent local organizer Shameka Parrish-Wright—were not accused of property damage. Kentucky’s riot law allows groups of people to be charged for the actions of others.
The law, as used in Scott’s case, is overbroad—and not even used the way it was intended, according to fellow Kentucky Rep. Lisa Willmer. She’s proposing legislation called “Attica’s Law” to prevent future mass riot charges against protesters who aren’t directly accused of wrongdoing.
“What happened in Representative Scott’s case, and in so many arrests that we have seen over the past several months, has just been real misapplication of the law,” Willmer told The Daily Beast.
Currently, Kentucky’s riot statute applies to people who “knowingly participate” in a riot that results in significant injuries or property, Louisville’s Courier-Journal reported. (The state defines a riot as a violent public disturbance of five or more people that creates a dangerous situation.)
Open-ended language about “knowing participation” can make riot laws like Kentucky’s ripe for abuse. Some of