Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s anti-riot bill that toughens laws against participators in violent protests.
The bill is a response to last year’s violent protests against police brutality, and was strongly supported by Republicans who used the January 6 Capitol riots as another example for supporting the measure.
DeSantis referred to the bill as “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.”
According to the AP, the bill enhances penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest, and grants authorities the right to hold arrested protesters until a first court appearance. It also makes it a felony to organize or participate in a violent demonstration.
The new law also aims to support law enforcement efforts dealing with protests. For instance, it denies local governments civil liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement’s efforts to respond to a violent protest, and mandates that local governments provide sufficient justification for reducing law enforcement budgets.
In addition, it makes it a second-degree felony (punishable by up to 10 years in prison) to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events.
DeSantis was surrounded by the state’s highest-ranking Republicans as he signed the bill that was lauded by law enforcement.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams issued a statement regarding the bill that read: “I am very pleased that our Governor has demonstrated yet again his support for law enforcement in signing House Bill 1 – the Anti-Riot Bill. Jacksonville, along with the rest of the state is ready to work together to build stronger bridges of trust and cooperation while maintaining public safety. Public Safety is paramount for everyone in Florida – our families, our neighbors and our businesses.”
However, the bill was received poorly by those on the other side of the aisle. Opponents of the bill refer to it as “racist.”
“Not only is this racist at its core, but it’s also a reaction to what occurred over the summer after the death of George Floyd,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones.
Micah Kubic, the executive director of ACLU of Florida, added, “The bill was purposely designed to embolden the disparate police treatment we have seen over and over again directed towards Black and brown people who are exercising their constitutional right to protest.”
In defense of the bill, House Speaker Chris Sprowls mentioned the failure of other cities to manage protests last year.
“Those cities are being ravaged by crime as a result of that lawlessness,” Sprowls said. “The leadership or lack thereof in those cities who stood down and stood back and said, ‘We’re not going to arrest people for committing crimes, we’re not going to arrest people who are being violent or hurting police officers. Who they’re hurting most are the people who need their protection the most.”