New Anti-Trespassing Law Could be Dangerous for Activists

There is a real danger in the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 which has recently been passed. At its core, it is simply a revised version of an already-passed law which uses the terminology “willingly and knowingly” entering a restricted area (where Secret Service is used as security) or a federal building as grounds for arrest and/or prosecution.

Reflecting on a tumultuous year of Occupy movements and the Arab Spring, the U.S. government has passed not one, but two new anti-protesting laws. With the exclusion of single word – from “willingly and knowingly” to simply “knowingly” – the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act is further restricting Americans first amendment rights.

Deputy Director of CAIR-Chicago, Sufyan Sohel, concludes that “These small changes to existing laws, while at face value don’t really change anything to current practices, could have profound impacts and allow the government greater ability to deny our civil liberties”.

While this bill is specifically meant for protestors targeting federal buildings, the President, and other politicians, it may be used any time there is a protest near the White House or elsewhere. The only caveat with this law is that the politicians and/or building must be protected under Secret Service protection. In the past, sporting events, state funerals, inaugural addresses and NATO and G-8 Summits have been designated as such by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the division that decides when and where the Secret Service are needed outside of their normal coverage.

The paralegal for the People’s Law Office, Brad Thomson, stated that “ These laws are used in heightened ways against POC and Arab-Americans, Muslim-Americans, and other individuals swept up in racist fear-mongering.”

The real danger in this law is the government’s silence about it. While the mainstream media hasn’t given the attention to this issue, Thomson argues that the effect is currently “chilling people from exercising their right to protest.”

In addition to potentially being dangerous specifically to Muslim- and Arab-American activists, Thomson also discussed the need for activists and community members to continue to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly without fear.

The bill originally passed the House of Representatives 399-3 in February 2011. On Feb. 6 of this year it passed the Senate with changes, which were approved by the House. The president signed the bill into law on March 8.