Suing St Louis and Other Rioters May be Only Way to Fight Lawlessness

"Sue the Bastards" Includes "Suing the Rioters," Successful Law Prof Suggests
"Sue the Bastards" Includes "Suing the Rioters"
"Sue the Bastards" Includes "Suing the Rioters"
WASHINGTON - Sept. 18, 2017 - PRLog -- Several nights of illegal rioting in St Louis, like similar earlier rioting in Charlottesville, Ferguson, Baltimore, and in other cities where a few criminals disagreed with legal decisions involving police shootings, show that something more is needed to stop such dangerous, expensive, and illegal disruptions, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who suggests suing them.

        While many on St Louis streets were apparently demonstrating their feelings lawfully, a few criminals reportedly blocked police from returning to their vehicles, threw bricks and bottles filled with harmful substances at them, vandalized almost two dozen businesses, and injured many people.

        Authorities repeatedly claimed that they would not tolerate violence, and the attorney general said he expected the authorities to prosecute those who engaged in violence, but all of these many riots makes it clear that criminal demonstrators are not deterred by the threat of arrests and then minor fines.

        That why Banzhaf - who has been called the "Dean of Public Interest Lawyers," "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars," and "Legal Academia's Instigator in Chief," argues that those who go beyond lawful protests, and engage in violent criminal activities to vent their views, should be sued by all those adversely affected, and that the suits should seek punitive damages and, if possible, be brought as class actions. "Sue The Bastards" includes "Suing the Rioters," he argued in a major legal piece in the National Law Journal.

        Because the threat of arrest and small fines obviously isn't discouraging a growing number who engage in criminal activities as a way of protesting, Banzhaf suggests that all those adversely affected should sue for civil damages under a variety of legal theories, some of which have already been successful.

         As he said in the National Law Journal, unless we finally confront the growing problem of very disruptive, expensive, and harmful riots by those who disagree with verdicts, things will only get worse.

        There are many reasons why the criminal law has often actually encouraged - rather than discouraged - criminal rioters, says Banzhaf.

        Rioters who violate criminal laws know that their chances of actually being arrested are small, as more police forces yield the streets to their blockades, "die ins," chaining themselves to things, and other similar tactics - with police often afraid to make arrests, or recognizing a new "right" to have them "let off steam," or simply because of sympathy with their cause.

        Even the few rioters who may be arrested usually face only a token fine; a small price to pay, they often think, for getting even more publicity for their cause.

        Indeed, if they refuse to pay the fine and are prosecuted in court, they can often turn the trial into a major media event to focus even more public attention on their grievances.

        The arrests themselves can also be publicized, with cell-phone stills or videos posted on the Internet to gain sympathy, and to increase their status and street cred.

        Potential rioters who may be willing to risk small criminal fines may be deterred by the likelihood of much larger civil judgments, potentially also including punitive damages since the torts are "intentional," and especially those which might result from class actions.

        This is true even for rioters with few assets, since the possibility of a large civil judgment - with potential garnishments and other collection techniques - is something many young people would be concerned about.

        Civil damages actions are also much easier to win than criminal prosecutions, notes Banzhaf, since there are fewer elements to establish, and a much lower standard of proof to be met.

        Civil actions would also open the door to pre-trial legal discovery, including those aimed at verifying concerns expressed in various media that those with even deeper pockets are involved in the planning, funding, and/or execution of these criminal disruptions.

        Obviously, the potential political damage, should any such behind-the-scenes conspiracy be revealed, might also deter those who might - for example - be funding travel expenses, the printing of protest signs, etc. for such disruptions.

        Civil damage tort actions can be very effective in deterring unlawful criminal conduct, and/or in forcing some of these responsible to pay even a small portion of the resulting damages.

        For example, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was forced to pay $2.55 million to Japanese companies for illegally using acid and smoke bombs to disrupt their whaling.

        Several different students were forced to make 5-figure restitution payments because of their criminal disruptions of constructions projects.

        Similarly, eleven who engaged in illegal activities at the Mall of America faced a $40,000 restitution claim, and 14 disruptors who chained themselves to a train faced even larger claims, although both unfortunately were reportedly later dropped.

        While the right to peacefully protest is enshrined in the Construction, there is no constitutional or other legal right to commit criminal acts to make a point, especially when the intended victims are innocent third parties: taxpayers forced to pay huge amounts for police overtime and injuries, thousands who cannot attend planned concerts, stores and other small businesses whose income suffered, etc.

        Perhaps it's time to add something stronger to the arsenal - "Sue The Rioters," says Banzhaf, who has won more than 100 legal actions on behalf of public interest causes.  @profbanzhaf

Tags:Sue The Bastards, St Louis Riots, Rioters
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