The Republican-controlled Florida legislature approved tougher penalties against protesters on Thursday, handing a major legislative victory to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who launched a campaign for the measure last year after a summer of unrest in the country over the killing of blacks by police.
A divided Florida senate has approved the so-called Anti-riot bill such as, Derek Chauvin, was on the verge of the death of George Floyd, a black man whose death below Chauvin’s knee sparked waves of protests.
The measure was sent to the Republican governor of Florida when new protests erupted in the suburbs of Minneapolis this week, after.
During weeks of debate, the spirits of the civil rights movement – and the specter of racism – roamed the auditoriums as opponents of the bills cited the names of civil rights icons, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Can I tell you that this bill is not about racism? Not really, I can’t know,” said GOP Sen. Ed Hooper, who joined the Republican majority in advancing the bill to the governor. “But I believe in my heart that we are, after all, a nation and a country of law and order.”
When lawmakers introduced the bill earlier this year, some supporters backed it in responsein the U.S. Capitol by supporters, mostly white, of former President Donald Trump.
But critics have debunked the story, calling the law an attack on the Black Lives movement and an attempt to restrict the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.
In fact, the genesis of the measure dates back to a September 21 press conference held by the governor, which was joined by Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprules to condemn the hustle and bustle of cities across the country and what he calls attacks on law enforcement.
Following the final adoption of the bill, DeSantis said he looked forward to signing the measure.
“This legislation strikes the right balance to preserve the constitutional right of every Florida citizen to assemble peacefully, while ensuring that those behind the peaceful protest to provoke violence in our communities are punished,” the governor said. in a statement.
The move sparked intense passions over the months as community activists from across the state gathered in the Capitol to ask lawmakers to abandon the effort.
“We know the governor wants this piece of legislation. We know that’s why he’s here. We don’t have to do everything the governor wants,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, the House’s Democratic leader.
From the beginning, the legislation seemed to be allowed to be passed by Republican leaders. What was sent to the U.S. Senate for final approval on Thursday was the same measure already approved by the House, which paved the way for the measure to go to the governor’s office. It will become law as soon as it is signed.
When signed into law, the penalties will be increased for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. This will allow the authorities to detain arrested protesters until their first appearance in court. And will identify new crimes for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
It would also deprive local governments of the protection of civil liability if they hindered law enforcement efforts to respond to violent protest and added language to state law that could force local governments to justify cuts in law enforcement budgets.
The proposal would also provide for a second-degree crime to destroy or destroy a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events. This would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“Rights have limits, and violence is where the line is drawn,” said Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, who carried the bill in the Senate. “This bill is about preventing violence.”
But some community leaders see it differently, saying it was created to stifle dissent.
Christina Keatl, organizer of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, warned that the new law could escalate clashes between police and protesters.
“It was a blow to our morale, for sure,” she said. “I’m not sure it’s going to be a failure, but it’s designed to scare people and keep people out.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the new law would give police broad discretion over what constitutes a demonstration and riot.
“The bill was deliberately designed to encourage the different policing we see over and over again, targeting blacks and browns exercising their constitutional right to protest,” said Mika Kubic, ACLU’s executive director from Florida.
Senator Daryl Rousson, a former NAACP president in St. Petersburg who joined every Democrat and lone Republican in voting on the bill, said the new law would not stop anyone from protesting against a just cause.
“It’s not going to stop people from getting up,” Rousson said.
“It will stop nothing but those who are afraid. I am not afraid,” he said. “I just want to tell people, keep knocking, keep protesting, keep getting up, despite trying to silence the voices.”