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Florida GOP Governor Signs Bill Criminalizing Peaceful Protests

Florida GOP Governor Signs Bill Criminalizing Peaceful Protests

Florida’s Republican Governor Ron “Death Sentence” DeSantis signed a controversial bill into law on Monday that imposes brutal criminal penalties on people who gather to peacefully protest issues such as police brutality, racial equality, and whether monuments to leaders of the Confederacy should remain in place.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

But that only scratches the surface of what this draconian and unconstitutional legislation does.

According to The Orlando Sentinel:

The law, which goes into effect immediately, grants civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road, which Democrats argued might have protected the white nationalist who ran over and killed counter-protester Heather Heyer during the Charlottesville tumult in 2017. It also makes blocking a highway a felony offense.

The law also creates a broad category for misdemeanor arrest during protests, and anyone charged under that provision will be denied bail until their first court appearance. De Santis said he wanted that to prevent people from rejoining ongoing protests.

It creates a new felony crime of ‘aggravated rioting’ that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of ‘mob intimidation.’

GOP lawmakers who dominate the Florida State Legislature rammed HB 1 through without any real debate and have received widespread condemnation from Democrats and civil rights organizations for what they view as a flagrant violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

On Monday morning, Immigration activist Thomas Kennedy blasted DeSantis as a “fascist” on Twitter.

“Ron DeSantis is signing a law today that makes 9 people standing on a street a felony, denies protestors bail, and removes civil liability for running over people during a protest. Ron Desantis is a fascist,” he wrote. “Last year, I confronted Ron Desantis over his mishandling of COVID-19 and his constant lying to the public as thousands of people died. DeSantis wants to silence Floridians who criticize him. We won’t let him intimidate us.”

The post included a video of Kennedy being escorted out of a town hall while excoriating De Santis for doing nothing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month that HB 1 is a projection of DeSantis’ personal delusions:

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This isn’t a game. This Governor and his Republican allies love to talk about the Constitution while shredding it with extreme legislation like HB 1. Silencing the speech of those seeking equality is straight from the Communist regime playbook. The criminal aspects of this bill are already illegal. HB 1 protects no one, makes no one safer, and does nothing to make people’s lives better. It’s simply to appease the Governor’s delusion of widespread lawlessness, and it’s frightening to imagine the lengths to which he’ll go to strip away rights and freedoms for political gain. The message from this Governor and his enablers is loud and clear: if you disagree with him, you will be silenced.

Kara Gross, the legislative director of Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union, explained that “the problem with this bill is that the language is so over-broad and vague … that it captures anybody who is peacefully protesting at a protest that turns violent through no fault of their own. Those individuals who do not engage in any violent conduct under this bill can be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony and face up to five years in prison and loss of voting rights. The whole point of this is to instill fear in Floridians.”

The governor, meanwhile, has defended HB 1 as a “pro-law enforcement” measure that aims to maintain order – the very thing which protests are supposed to disrupt in order to bring about necessary change.

“If you look at the breadth of this particular piece of legislation, it is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Winter Haven. “There’s just nothing even close.”

The governor added that “we also saw around the country people toppling monuments of people like George Washington. This bill protects all monuments in Florida. You have no right to go in and take down monuments, we’re not going to let the mob win the day with that.”

Florida, however, has not emerged as a hotbed of social unrest since the murder of Floyd or the growing number of Black civilians whose lives have been unjustly cut short at the hands of trigger-happy cops.

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