Raising the Stakes for Violent Protests
Yesterday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the so-called "anti-riot" bill into law, much to the praise of Republicans, much to the dismay of activists who say the law is just another example of state overreach. The bill has a long history of coming to fruition. It began as a concept in the late summer of 2020, as international protests kicked off in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.
Derek Chauvin's murder and manslaughter trial just wrapped up, as both the prosecution and defense rested their arguments yesterday. And now, Mr. Chauvin's life hangs in the hands of a jury of his peers.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, the Governor touted the bill as being anti-violent protest and pro-police in one swipe, saying, "It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,"
After beginning to call for an anti-riot law in the summer of 2020, the governor reinvigorated the debate by demanding that legislation be drafted in the wake of the incident at the Capitol on January 6th. By January 7th, Governor DeSantis had already stated, in effect, that no matter who's behind it, violence has no place in a peaceful protest.
Skip forward to yesterday and the bill has officially become law.
At a press conference in Polk County yesterday, 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 main push for the law has been to make violent acts during a protest a 2nd-degree felony. The Governor openly supports our American right to peacefully assemble and protest, rights that are enshrined in the very first amendment of our Constitution.
But he also draws a line between that and the violence we've seen in cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland.
Still, activist groups have complained, which makes one wonder if they're really "pro-riot" or just dislike anything that comes from the mouth of a political representative with an R attached to his name. The bill has received some blowback in the past few weeks as activists have said it will be used to disproportionately target minority communities.
So what's actually in the law?
Besides making violence during a protest a 2nd-degree felony anywhere in the State of Florida, the law also allows the State to intercede on behalf of the citizens if localities try to unilaterally defund the police. It also provides civil immunity for anyone who runs over a violent rioter during a protest. Beyond these, the law:
- 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.
- Disallows bail for people arrested for violently protesting until their first court appearance.
While the bill is officially law, there's certainly going to be some legal pushback and it might end up all the way at the Supreme Court. The Governor and Republicans have doubled down, stating that it will help keep our communities safe and free from violence while respecting the right to peacefully protest at other locations, such as city halls.