Representative Ken Buck, a former Weld County district attorney who moonlights as the head of the Colorado Republican Party, this month introduced the Blocking Rioters and Insurrectionists from Our Cities to Keep Us Safe Act, which would increase penalties for inciting, organizing, aiding, abetting or funding rioting from five years to ten years.
The BRICKS Act would also add an escalator clause in which penalties could increase to 25 years in prison if serious bodily injury is inflicted; violators may face up to life in prison if death results from their actions.
Buck's introduction of the bill comes after months of protests related to racial justice, but also a heavy-handed response by federal law enforcement authorities in places like Portland, Oregon, with some federal lawmakers even calling for President Donald Trump to "send in the troops."
While this proposal may help Buck score some political points with conservatives, it's unlikely to have a material effect, according to one former federal prosecutor.
"This bill makes no actual difference to law enforcement's ability to address the kind of offense that we’re talking about," says John Walsh, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, who recently ran for U.S. Senate as a Democrat. "I see this as a completely symbolic amendment, and not one that’s actually calculated to help law enforcement."
Buck's office did not respond to a request for comment. However, the congressman, who recently cruised to re-election, made his intentions clear in a November 17 announcement of the bill's filing.
"This year, we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of violence from riots organized by Antifa and other radical leftist groups. It’s time to take action against anarchist groups that have wreaked havoc across the country, and the BRICKS Act does just that,” Buck said. “In order to truly restore unity in this country, Congress must support efforts like this to stop the violence perpetrated by the far left. We need to restore the livelihoods of our communities and hold these criminals accountable for their large-scale destruction once and for all.”
Walsh has seen these types of bills before. "It’s not uncommon for the criminal law and criminal penalties to be used as a symbolic way of signaling a particular legislator’s or Congress's or state assembly’s concern over a particular issue," he says.
But it's rare for federal prosecutors to go after an individual for a rioting offense, Walsh notes. Those cases are usually handled by district attorneys.
Aside from increasing the penalty for standard rioting offenses, Buck's bill also seeks to spell out aggravating factors, with a stipulation that rioting accompanied by the "use, attempted use, or threatened use of a dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire," be punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
And if the rioting offense results in death or involves things like kidnapping, an attempt to kill or aggravated sexual abuse, the person involved can be sentenced to up to life in prison, according to the bill.
According to Walsh, however, prosecutors can address these aggravating factors already by charging an individual with various crimes in addition to the rioting offenses.
Says Walsh: "There are many other tools that you can bring [for] a more serious crime or where someone is really hurt or where bombs or other weapons are used, to ensure that a truly dangerous person would receive a stiff sentence already."