Florida Gov. Wants To Criminalize Protesters & Protect Drivers Who Hit People

The ACLU of Florida has said the proposed legislation is designed to “silence, criminalize, and penalize” people seeking justice for Black Lives.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives updates about the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic during a press conference on April 17, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. | Getty Images
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives updates about the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic during a press conference on April 17, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced a set of proposals on Monday that would increase penalties against protesters in the state — and absolve drivers for killing or injuring someone with their vehicle if they are “fleeing for safety from a mob.”

The proposed legislation takes aim at the demonstrations that have occurred around the state as part of a nationwide civil rights uprising ignited after the death of George Floyd. It also falls in line with President Trump’s calls for “law and order” and came on the same day that the Department of Justice named three cities that have seen significant anti-racism protests “anarchist jurisdictions.”

The proposed legislation, dubbed the “Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Protecting Law Enforcement Act,” calls for a mandatory minimum six-month jail sentence for individuals who strike a law enforcement officer during a “violent or disorderly assembly.” The proposal defines such an assembly as an instance where a group of seven or more people " cause damage to property or injury to other persons" — categorized as as a third-degree felony.

It would also classify criminal offenses for people who obstruct traffic as a third-degree felony. Individuals would also be denied bail until their first court appearance.

Civil liberties groups have swiftly condemned the proposed legislation.

“Gov. DeSantis’ proposal is undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values. This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement.

DeSantis announced the law at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven on Monday. The governor was joined by law enforcement officials as well as Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President-elect Wilton Simpson — both Republicans.

“I think it’s important that every single person running for office in the state of Florida this year, whether you’re running for the House, whether you’re running for the Senate, you have an obligation to let the voters know where you stand on this bill,” DeSantis said, according to the Miami Herald. “Are you going to stand with law and order and safe communities, or are you going to stand with the mob?”

The proposed legislation would also “prohibit” state grants or aid to any local government “that slashes the budget for law enforcement services.”

Most notably, the proposed legislation says a driver is “NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob,” which effectively protects drivers who strike individuals during a protest.

A CNN report, citing the governor’s office, said the next legislative session will begin in March 2021, but committees will begin meeting later this year to find sponsors for the bill and begin drafting its language.

In recent months, dozens of drivers have hit protesters with their vehicles; in some cases , a driver has been charged after accelerating their vehicles into a group of protesters, causing injury and alarm.

According to the Miami Herald, protests in Florida have rarely resulted in property damage — in fact, some protests in South Florida actively intervened against action that would provoke police and damage property.

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