Politics Protests
St. Louis Protests Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

Protest gather, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, in downtown St. Louis, after a judge found a white former St. Louis police officer, Jason Stockley, not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a black man, Anthony Lamar Smith, who was fatally shot following a high-speed chase in 2011.

September 16, 2017

Pennsylvania lawmaker suggests he'd hit protesters with his car

A Pennsylvania lawmaker took to social media on Friday to imply he'd hit protesters with his car if they blocked a road he was driving on.

State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, a Republican who represents parts of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, retweeted a story from The Hill about those protesting against St. Louis police after an officer was acquitted of murder charges for fatally shooting a black man in 2011.

Bernstine added his own commentary: "If anyone EVER tries to stop my car on a highway with negative intentions... I will not stop under any conditions."

Bernstine, who was elected last year, proceeded to defend his comments after receiving backlash. He suggested that not stopping your car when people block a highway was a form of defending one's self and that he was only referring to demonstrators who "threaten" drivers. 

In response to Bernstine's tweets, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party demanded he make an apology. 

“Representative Bernstine should not have to be reminded that the right to peaceably assemble is so fundamental to our democracy that it is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution," the party said in a statement

"His statement is not fit for a state representative — let alone any decent person — and he must apologize immediately.”

The lawmaker's comments come at a time when local governments are trying to find new ways to handle demonstrations. In several states, legislation has been introduced that would protect people who run over protesters. In August, a man drove a car into a sea of counter-protesters who were rallying against white supremacists and Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one person and injuring several others.

In Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would hold protesters who break the law financially responsible for police overtime fees and other costs related to their demonstrations.

“I think this approach strikes the right balance between these two priorities. It only affects individuals who break the law and cause harm to others or their property, and not the individuals who are simply exercising their rights to free speech and lawful assembly," state Sen. Scott Martin, the bill's primary sponsor, said of the legislation.