In a play designed to make it harder for social justice advocates to gather and promote change, the Florida Senate has passed a controversial so-called “anti-riot” bill inspired by the recent increase in protests by groups such as Black Lives Matter.
Dartunorro Clark of NBC News has reported that “the bill aims to increase criminal penalties for assault against law enforcement while engaging in a ‘riot’ and defacing monuments and other public property. It would also penalize local governments that interfere with law enforcement attempting to contain riots and would provide a citizen’s appeal process when cities and counties attempt to reduce police budgets in response to riots.”
The final vote on the measure broke almost completely along party lines, with 23 state Republicans voting in support of the measure and 16 Democrats (plus one lone Republican) voting against it. The bill had previously passed the GOP-controlled House in March 2021. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis supports the bill and is expected to sign it into law early next week.
First Amendment advocates are stunned by the breadth of the measure and believe it severely impacts individual rights and places a chilling restriction on political dissent.
According to Clark, “GOP state Sen. Ed Hooper said during the bill’s contentious debate that the legislation was not about racism but ‘law and order.’ Democratic state Sen. Jason Pizzo, who criticized the bill, tweeted after its passage that ‘this legislative session will likely get its own custom box of Cards Against Humanity.’”
Following former President Trump’s attempted insurrection at the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, at least 13 states have taken up new legislation that they claim is meant to place restrictions on all protests to protect public safety — but appears to be racially motivated and is more about limiting protests by groups like Black Lives Matter.
According to Clark, “[Lawmakers in] Florida, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington filed bills that critics claim are using the violence at the Capitol to target social justice protests more broadly. [However,] many of the bills are similar or identical to the ones introduced in those states last year.”
“The majority of bills use almost identical language and suggest similar penalties, most establishing third-degree felonies for property damage, injuring a person or obstructing roadways, second-degree felonies for destroying or toppling monuments and first-degree misdemeanors of harassment for confrontations in public spaces, such as confronting elected officials in restaurants,” Clark reported. “The lawmakers also propose hefty fines and mandatory jail sentences ranging from 30 days to four years depending on the offense.”