Legal advocates say bicycle corkers could get caught up in bill meant to counter civil disorder

Corkers during a protest in Portland in July 2020. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“I could see blocking a road or directing traffic or doing the other things that corkers do be interpreted as threatening to use a weapon.”

-Sarah Alvarez, CLDC

A bill in the Oregon House currently moving through the legislature has some advocates concerned that protesting while riding a bike could soon be seen as “paramilitary activity” in the eyes of the law.

HB 2572 was introduced by Representative Dacia Grayber (D-Tigard) in response to rising extremist violence in Oregon and across the country. The bill would expand the definition of ‘civil disorder’ “for purposes of crime of unlawful paramilitary activity.” It also “creates right of action for person injured by paramilitary activity and authorizes Attorney General to bring civil action for injunctive relief against paramilitary activity.”

The bill text redefines “civil disorder” to include “acts of intimidation or force by assemblages of three or more persons while armed with…dangerous weapons that obstruct, impair or hinder the administration of law or other governmental or judicial function; assert authority of purport to assert authority over one or more other persons without the consent of the persons; or prevent the exercise of constitutional rights by one or more persons.”

The bill defines “dangerous weapons” to include firearms, explosives and incendiary devices. But could the definition also include bicycles. Portland environmental lawyer Nick Caleb, who works with climate justice advocacy team Breach Collective, is concerned about that possibility.

“Because it’s unclear what so many terms in this law mean, it’s possible that someone could claim they are injured by sign, bike, or shield-wielding protestors because they were stuck in traffic and sue,” Caleb wrote on Twitter. “Because this is civil, you don’t have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Sarah Alvarez, a staff attorney at the Eugene-based Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), is also keeping an eye on this bill. She told BikePortland that she thinks since it’s possible a bike could be used to cause injury, they might be grouped in with other “dangerous weapons”.

“I’ve seen people really seriously injured by police officers using bikes as a tool for crowd control… you can definitely cause serious physical injury with a bike if you wanted to — not that a corker would want to,” Alvarez said. “I could see blocking a road or directing traffic or doing the other things that corkers do be interpreted as threatening to use a weapon.”

While bike corkers do not often injure people, especially not intentionally, their actions have been known to agitate car drivers. Since the definition of “personal injury” is loose, it’s possible that someone could claim personal injury if they were stuck in traffic behind a group of bike corkers.

Lawyers and advocates from the CLDC, Breach Collective and other environmental groups have asked legislators to rethink their support for this bill in its current state. They recognize the real threat of right-wing extremism, but want the bill to be tailored to make sure it can be used against anyone the Attorney General sees fit. But they say they’ve had a difficult time getting through to officials in Salem, and though the bill’s language has been altered slightly, they want to see more.

In a statement to BikePortland, Grayber wrote that this bill will not impact bike corking.

“To the specific concern of bike corkers, the legal experts on our team are confident that if cyclists are not using their bicycles as weapons, or using any other weapon, and are not part of a paramilitary organization, they will not come within the prohibited acts,” Grayber wrote in a statement to BikePortland. “Again, this statute could only go into effect for those acting as part of a paramilitary organization, which has its own set of parameters, and is separate from peaceful forms of protest or civil disobedience.”

But these statements haven’t done much to alleviate concerns about how the bill’s language could be interpreted. And Alvarez said that even if it’s very unlikely that a bike corker would be punished for innocently participating in a protest, the knowledge that it’s a possibility might keep people away from exercising their first amendment rights. This could even mean people eschewing the World Naked Bike Ride — technically a protest activity — for fear of retribution.

“People might say they don’t want to participate because they don’t want a civil injunction for causing personal injury. So even though it’s probably safe…it makes people anxious or unsure and basically opt out of expressing their First Amendment rights, which includes the Naked Bike Ride,” Alvarez said. “That only has to happen once for people to start being freaked out.”

HB 2572 is currently in the House Committee on Rules awaiting a hearing. Since there’s significant Republican opposition to the bill as well, it’s not guaranteed to pass. This is only one of the Oregon bills that has lawyers and advocates fearful about crackdowns on protest activity — House Bill 2772, or the “domestic terrorism bill,” is of concern for similar reasons, but doesn’t have such a direct relationship to bike riders. As these bills go through the legislature, opponents will continue to push for changes.

“We share lawmakers’ concerns about the rise of violent, right-wing extremism in Oregon. Many of us have experienced it firsthand in our advocacy in both urban and rural settings,” a letter to lawmakers from the CLDC, Breach Collective and more reads. “This said, we, and the advocates we work with, have also been subjected to government surveillance and repression while participating in constitutionally
protected protest and issue advocacy, giving us direct experience in the ways that law enforcement and criminal justice agencies selectively administer, or refuse to administer, their authority over social and political movements. As such, we urge you to reconsider the passage of
these bills in any form.”

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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maxD
maxD
1 year ago

“We share lawmakers’ concerns about the rise of violent, right-wing extremism in Oregon. Many of us have experienced it firsthand in our advocacy in both urban and rural settings,”

and violent left-wing extremism. If Oregon passes a law, I hope it outlaws ALL forms of violent extremism.

jakeco969
jakeco969
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

I’m pretty sure those pesky right wingers weren’t trying to burn the fed building down, damaged the historical museum (and quilt), essentially rioted all through the summer, toppled statues and, and…..
There’s too many crazies in Portland to try to put them all in neat brackets.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

First they came for left-extremists and then for center-left extremists and then they they they came for me…

jakeco969
jakeco969
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I don’t get it? No one is coming for anybody, that’s why the city is in such a mess. Theres really no difference in the result between left wing, center wing or right wing violence. It’s just all violence with fancy words used as descriptors to make the violent cosplayers feel better about themselves and give them an excuse to lash out.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Theres really no difference in the result between left wing…or right wing violence.

Who knew that the fence surrounding the justice center had basic human rights?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Theres really no difference in the result between left wing, center wing or right wing violence.

There absolutely is a difference. One side wants to free humanity and the other wants to subjugate it. Like, you can complain all day about your boogeyman Antifa for being a bit annoying to you but they are not the same thing as right wing militias prepping for and threatening much more serious violence.

You might as well write there is no difference between violence against people, and people reacting to that violence done to them.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

There absolutely is a difference: One side is my side, the other side is not my side. The rest of us don’t particularly relish subjugation by the left or the right.

Political violence is never* justified.

*Ok, sometimes it is, but the rare exception doesn’t nullify the rule. And Antifa isn’t it, even if, Heavens to Betsy!, the Proud Boys are marching through Portland.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Extremists always justify their actions and are incapable of self-reflection.

Granpa
Granpa
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Antifa and proud boys both wear the same outfits. Both are self righteous, intolerant of Opposing Views and quick to go to violence. Proud boys at least have an objective in overthrowing the government, while Antifa just want to wreck stuff then claim they are “saving humanity”

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Granpa

There isn’t space or time to get into big long stupid debates about this, but I can’t leave this be. Antifa do not just go around wrecking stuff, they literally only do anything in situations where they are defending someone. That’s the only place they show up. So, they show up when the Proud Boys come looking for people to beat up. They’re there when the right wingers are expected to harass other kinds of protests. Stuff like that. That’s it. That’s all they do.

What you are thinking of is “some person I, Granpa, can’t identify spray painted a wall” and you’re calling that Antifa. It’s the Fox News definition of Antifa and it isn’t real.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

the Proud Boys come looking for people to beat up

The come looking for Antifa people to beat up, and Antifa unfailingly indulges them. If Antifa stayed home, the Proud Boys would too.

Antifa and the Proud Boys are opposite poles of the same magnet.

Granpa
Granpa
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I wish it were true that Antifa were a meaningful countervailing force against fascism. Perhaps a handful of the protesters were that sort of active idealists, but they were well outnumbered by destructive anarchists and thrill seeking, suburban wannabes. And I get my news locally from an abc affiliate

Middle o the Road Guy
Middle o the Road Guy
1 year ago
Reply to  John

You talk like video doesn’t exist.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Granpa

Antifa and proud boys both wear the same outfits.

Yeah … antifa are well-known fans of the american-flag, bald eagles, a variety of white-nationalist symbols, and crude references to pinochet’s brutal dictatorship.

Art Renner
Art Renner
1 year ago
Reply to  John

What recent rioting was done by right wing extremists? From the 60s til now, my experience has been the reverse…almost always, it’s well meaning and left leaning people, infiltrated by anarchists. Then people and property suffer.

Maria B
Maria B
1 year ago

It seems these protest attorneys are a bit too worried–but let’s clean up the bill and get it passed. We can use it against ALL forms of extremism, right and left! In Portland it would be mostly useful against left wing extremism. Our Antifa vandals would definitely qualify. Eastern Oregon….more right wing I would guess.

And to be quite frank I’m actually now willing to give up some of my civil liberties for personal safety and a reduction in lawlessness. Singapore is actually looking pretty good right now in comparison to Portland. And it is the happiest county in Asia. Can’t say Portlanders are happy right now.

Remember this attack?
https://www.koin.com/news/portland/portland-fire-investigates-3-cars-on-fire-at-pps-admin-building/

https://happiness-report.s3.amazonaws.com/2023/WHR+23.pdf

https://kcby.com/news/local/travel-portland-survey-finds-many-fear-spending-time-money-in-city

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Maria B

“I’m actually now willing to give up some of my civil liberties for personal safety”

Not me. This (proposed) law sounds very broad, and, like other broad laws, people will find novel ways to use it that are different than lawmakers intend.

No thank you.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Maria B

Uh… Singapore ranks lower than the US as a whole on that happiness report. Weird thing to bring up.

“Remember an arson from two years ago?” No. I don’t. I don’t spend my precious free time recalling random acts of violence. I spend it replying to people on BikePortland thanks.

Also just got to say – “A significant chunk of humanity is afraid of spending time and money in our city” – this is the funniest quote I’ve read in my entire life. I buy that lots of people avoid parts of downtown Portland. I do not buy that a significant chunk of humanity is afraid of Portland.

Patrick Cashman
Patrick Cashman
1 year ago

So by “corking” you mean “unlawful restraint”…but I’m not sure what the presence of a bicycle has to do with it….

jakeco969
jakeco969
1 year ago

I was looking at the photo of the corking and I am surprised you used this particular one. It looks very much like two individuals using their patriarchal white privilege to restrain the mobility of two people of color, neither of whom look very happy about it.

jakeco969
jakeco969
1 year ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Whoops, three people of color, I missed one of the passengers.

Gasper Johnson
1 year ago

I am proud Oregon has one of the strongest 1st Amendments in the country. This law would weaken our rights.

Gasper Johnson
1 year ago

The Portland Police gave water and encouragement to right-wing extremists. There’s little question about how this law would be applied.
“Those that burn crosses are the same that work forces”

Gregg Dal Ponte
Gregg Dal Ponte
1 year ago

In my opinion it should be unacceptable for anyone outside of legitimate law enforcement to use anything (even a bicycle) to restrain the mobility of a fellow citizen for the sole purpose of social protest. Protest all you want as long as you do not interfere with the rights of others. Chant, march, deploy sidewalk chalk drawings, make your demands of elected officials and parade around with signs if it makes you feel good. People that are interested in your message can watch and enjoy the show. People that have no appreciation for your messaging can ignore you and freely pursue their business. Everybody is happy. This could be so much simpler than some people make it.