Police arrest an Occupy protester in Washington, D.C., last December.
The radical corners of the Internet have been ringing loudly over a piece of legislation passed with near unanimous support last week that protesters are calling the “anti-Occupy” bill. The new law mostly updates a set of rules already in place, however.
HR 347—the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011—empowers the government to prosecute anyone who knowingly, and without legal permission, enters “(1) the White House or its grounds or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.” That language brings certain trespassing violations in Washington under federal jurisdiction.
Additionally, the law makes it easier to charge people lingering in what’s been deemed a “restricted area,” regardless of whether they claim ignorance of their trespassing. —ARK
Natasha Lennard at Salon:
The new bill specifically addresses certain trespassing violations in D.C., which currently do not fall under the remit of federal law (i.e., HR 347 now makes it a federal issue if you trespass onto White House grounds). The only other significant change in the bill is a shift in language, which will make it easier to prosecute those who are found to unlawfully have entered these restricted areas. The law used to say that the person must have entered the area “knowingly” and “willfully.” HR 347, however, scrapped the “willfully,” which essentially now renders it a crime to remain in a restricted area, even if you do not know that it’s illegal for you to be there.
“By striking out ‘willfully’ they make it easier to prosecute under ‘knowingly,’” explained Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. She noted with some exasperation that the campaigns focusing energies against HR 347 miss the bigger, ongoing fight for basic free speech and threats to it, as this specific law is only an amendment to laws that were primarily established in 2006. For Verheyden-Hilliard, HR 347 is best understood as the government “looking at the tools in their arsenal and polishing them up” in time for major, protest-drawing summits and political conventions this year.