(The Center Square) – Led by state Sens. Joe Pennacchio and Bob Singer, New Jersey Republicans want to put a stop to “pop-up” riots like the fatal H2Oi rally by scaling up penalties for crimes committed during a riot.
Two people died in Wildwood on Sept. 24.
“With respect to the increasing dangers associated with large pop-up parties, the legislation would rework New Jersey’s riot statutes and add enhanced penalties that scale up as the size of the riot, the severity of bodily injury, the use of weapons, and the dollar amount of property damages increases,” Brad Schnure, communications director for the Senate Republican Office, told The Center Square.
None of the measures would apply to peaceful protests and rallies, or other forms of protected speech, he said.
Pennachio and Singer’s bill, S-1206, also would broaden the legal definition of “riot.” They first introduced the bill more than 15 months ago after thousands of people descended upon Long Branch, damaging property, disrupting businesses and disturbing tourists, a Senate Republican news release reported.
“There is nothing spontaneous or organic about these riots,” Pennacchio said, according to the release. “They are planned and orchestrated for the purpose of breaking laws, intimidating residents, and taunting authorities. This will continue to happen until the legislative leaders in Trenton step up.”
New Jersey law and the proposed legislation define a riot as involving a violent public disturbance in which people act with a common intent to engage in violent and disorderly conduct resulting in injury to others, damage to property, or creating an imminent danger of injury or damage to property, Schnure said.
The bill recognizes that when 5,000 people suddenly show up somewhere, as happened in Long Branch, there’s a greater likelihood of increased harm and damage if people engage in riotous activity than if a smaller group showed up and a few of them took part in violent or disorderly activity, he said.
The bill text shows that a person would have to be actively engaged in violent activities for the proposed riot-related crimes to apply, Schnure said. Someone who shows up to a pop-up party but doesn’t actively participate in destructive or harmful activities wouldn’t be subject to the proposed penalties.
“The goal is to keep large pop-up parties from getting out of hand, and to ensure that anyone involved in turning a peaceful gathering into a violent or destructive riot is held accountable,” Schnure said.