Florida has enacted a new racist “anti-riot” bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 19, 2021. He called the bill the “strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement measure in the country.”
During the signing photo-op, DeSantis was literally “backed up” by many Florida sheriffs behind him. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who hosted the event at his Winter Haven office, stood just behind DeSantis’ right shoulder, next to Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and counterparts from Gilchrist and Marion counties stood on a second-row riser.
CS/HB 1: Combating Public Disorder is a signature item for DeSantis, who is running for reelection in 2022. The Florida governor signed the bill in opposition of Black legislators, Democrats, experts, and even his own constituents. The reactionary law will suppress First Amendment rights and disproportionately impact Black people and other people of color.
The bill is supposedly in response to the massive civil unrest last summer that shook the nation following the senseless murder of George Floyd by disgraced former Minneapolis police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin. The bill is a significant blow to the “defund the police” movement.
Florida Politics recently conducted a poll on the bill before its signing and found that nearly 40 percent called the proposal a terrible idea, 23 percent considered the bill a somewhat bad idea.
Slightly more than 19 percent considered the legislation an excellent idea. Only 18 percent said it is somewhat good.
The Florida law creates a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting,” which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. It also includes the new crime of “mob intimidation.” It will now be unlawful “for a person, assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.”
Mob intimidation bills are often used as a tool for police to harass, criminalize, and incarcerate Black men and women who are often just hanging out in their neighborhoods. The bill also protects symbols of this country’s racism around Florida, including Confederate monuments, statues, and historic property, limiting local governments from reducing often inflated police budgets. “This bill actually prevents local government from defunding law enforcement,” said DeSantis. “We will be able to stop it at the state level.” Florida officials now will be able to appeal to the governor and his Cabinet any decision by local officials to reduce funding to law enforcement.
The law also increases penalties for Florida protesters who block roadways or deface public monuments. It will also require that anyone arrested at a protest be denied bail until their first court appearance, likely making for overnight jail stays. Florida officials can now be held liable for lawsuits from injured parties if they are found to have not done enough to respond to control violent protests.
“This legislation undermines every Floridian’s constitutional rights, and it is disgusting that the GOP would rather empower vigilantes and silence voices than listen to the majority of Floridians who oppose this dangerous bill,” said Shevrin Jones (D-West Park, Fla.), who is Black, in a statement.
A study released earlier this month found that the bill would overload the Florida prison system and burden taxpayers. The study estimated that roughly “270 to 720 additional prison beds will be occupied under the bill’s new and enhanced charges at any given time.”
Civil rights and social justice groups are still fighting the new law. Nailah Summers of Dream Defenders, a group that is active in organizing protests in Florida, said, “They should be ashamed of themselves. Black lives matter, and so do our constitutional rights. We’ll see you in court.”
Written by Ebonee Stevenson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Miami Herald: DeSantis signs ‘anti-mob’ legislation into law in response to George Floyd protests; by Ana Ceballos
Tampa Bay Times: DeSantis signed ‘anti-riot’ bill flanked by sheriffs. Where was Chad Chronister?; by Tony Marrero
NPR: Florida Adopts Nation’s Toughest Restrictions On Protests; by Greg Allen
CNN: Florida governor signs controversial ‘pro-law enforcement’ law cracking down on riots; by Paul LeBlanc and Maria Cartaya
Images Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License