WINTER HAVEN, Fla .– Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday enacted sweeping bill that he says will increase penalties for people who violently riot, loot and destroy property and punish cities that fail to protect not lives and property and are trying to redirect funding for law enforcement.
But critics say the law violates First Amendment free speech rights and targets black communities, who protested last summer after the death of George Floyd while in custody in Minneapolis. DeSantis signed the bill the day the jury for the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, accused of Floyd’s death, received the case.
Among others, the law “Fight against public disorder”:
- Allows the state to bypass local authorities and punish municipalities that attempt to reduce or eliminate law enforcement funding
- Allow businesses damaged or destroyed during looting or riots to sue municipalities that do not offer police protection
- Increases legal fees for people who assault anyone, especially law enforcement, or damage property during a riot
- Revise the ban on obstructing traffic while standing in the street
- Prohibits protesters from using or threatening to use imminent force against another person
- Demands that a person arrested for rioting be kept in detention until their first appearance in court
- And forbidden to degrade, injure or damage a commemorative monument or historical property, including flags
“This is the strongest riot and pro-law enforcement law in the land and there is nothing quite close,” DeSantis said at a press conference Monday morning before signing the bill. of law. “If you riot, if you loot, if you harm others, especially if you injure a law enforcement officer, during one of these violent meetings, you go to jail.”
DeSantis was particularly critical of calls to “defund”, “unblock” or reduce funding for law enforcement.
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“Some local governments are asking the police to withdraw while towns have been set on fire, businesses have been set on fire and people have been injured. It’s a dereliction of duty, ”DeSantis said, referring to Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis, which experienced weeks of riots last summer.
About two dozen court officers and state officials – all white – stood behind DeSantis during its announcement. Those who all spoke said the law upheld the constitutional right of the people to protest.
Florida Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson helped lead the DeSantis initiative through the top legislature. He acknowledged his controversy.
“Somehow it has become a political issue, and I don’t know how political it is to say, ‘I’m going to protect law enforcement, we’re going to protect people’s property and he there will be rules of engagement if you decide to riot, ”he said.
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Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held up pictures of people having fun at Disney World, on beaches and in parks. And he held up pictures of people demonstrating peacefully, contrasting them with riots.
“I want to make sure everyone knows this is a peaceful protest – we encourage it. It is the foundation of our country and we want people to protest peacefully when they feel the need, ”Judd said. “It’s a riot and it’ll get you locked up in the state of Florida quickly.” Pay attention.”
“ Silencing speech, that’s what communist regimes do ”
Florida State’s only elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, ridiculed DeSantis and Republican leaders for passing a measure she says violates free speech rights .
“Republicans love to talk about the Constitution, but they shred it with bills like House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 90 (a controversial electoral overhaul). Silencing the rhetoric and blocking the vote is what communist regimes do. HB 1 should never have been signed, ”said Fried, who is expected to challenge DeSantis in next year’s governor’s race.
The Florida Civil Liberties Union has said the legislation, which has whitewashed the House and Senate on partisan principles, criminalizes Floridians who choose to exercise their First Amendment rights.
A number of civil rights organizations have already said they would likely seek to have the new law blocked by the courts on constitutional grounds. The legislation was among the most controversial bills submitted to the legislature, drawing dozens of opponents to every committee judgment – while few Floridians have stepped forward to speak out for the change.
“Economists have warned that the bill will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, creating new prison beds in an already overburdened and collapsing mass incarceration system,” said Mikah Kubic, executive director of the Florida ACLU.
“It does not make any effort to increase the penalties for driving cars in demonstrators, rather it protects violent counter-demonstrators from civil liability if they injure or kill a protester or a protester,” he added. . “The bill also protects white supremacist shrines with increased fees for damaging Confederate monuments or the Confederate flag.”
Follow Kimberly C. Moore on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.