A curious part of the governor's new anti-riot bill
It's been a long time coming. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Combating Public Disorder bill into law, today, a bill that had been drafted on January 7th, 2021, in the wake of the Capitol riots in Washington D.C. But the birth of the idea began long before that, in the late summer of 2020, as America faced nationwide protests in the wake of the alleged murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
After a wave of protests swept the country, and some of those protests turned violent, notably in Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland, DeSantis began speaking out about the need for stiffer penalties for protests that turn violent.
The Governor has carefully walked the tightrope, here, a fine line where he both supports the right to peacefully protest and stiffens the penalties severely for protestors who engage in violent behavior.
Governor DeSantis said, "We saw really unprecedented rioting and disorder throughout the summer of 2020, and we said that's not going to happen here in the state of Florida. And we wanted to make sure that we were able to protect the people of our great state, people's business, and property against any top of mob activity or violent assemblies."
The bill is destined to be controversial, with some activist groups pushing back stating that it's a clear example of state overreach that's going to be used to harm minorities and other vulnerable communities.
But what exactly is it that's so controversial?
Let's unpack the bill and see what's in it. The bill:
- Criminalizes using or threatening force or violence against someone else during a protest.
- Allows businesses and property owners to sue local municipalities if they fail to provide adequate policing for such a situation.
- Criminalizes defacing property, including flags, and notably, criminalizes defacing historical structures, statues, or monuments.
- It allows the State of Florida to punish local governments who attempt to defund police departments.
- Disallows bail for people arrested for violently protesting until their first court appearance.
- Authorizes felony charges for those caught being violent at a protest.
Beyond all of this, the bill also provides civil immunity for people who run over protestors, so long as the protestors have blocked off the streets. This is the part that's presumably going to raise the most eyebrows. One instantly conjures up mental images of Grand Theft Auto video games. What could possibly go wrong?
Fortunately, the law is much more mundane. It only provides legal cover for drivers if the streets are entirely blocked off by protestors. But still, this is certainly enough to make some heads spin.
Proponents of the bill, on the other hand, believe the bill will keep protests like the ones that rocked the rest of the country last year out of Florida. DeSantis himself has also explicitly stated he supports the right to peacefully protest, reiterating that the rights of peaceful assembly and free speech are enshrined in our constitution, but that these rights do not extend to include violent behavior towards others.