The Republican governor’s comments came after a Monday conference call with governors in which President Trump urged state leaders to “dominate” and jail protesters.
It took three days for Gov. Ron DeSantis to comment publicly about the massive protests that broke out in Florida over the police-brutality death in Minneapolis of George Floyd. The 46-year-old black man, a father of two, was asphyxiated under a white officer’s knee as he repeatedly cried out that he couldn’t breathe.
But despite the growing unrest and the visible pain and outrage of people across the nation, the Republican governor’s last public statement was on Saturday via a tweet and a Facebook posting commemorating the launch of the SpaceX rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. Not a word to his constituents came from one of President Trump’s staunchest allies.
Finally, on Monday, the Republican governor issued a statement. It began by denouncing the few vandals who disrupted the protests: “Florida has zero-tolerance for violence, rioting, and looting,” DeSantis said. “George Floyd’s murder was appalling, and the Minnesota perpetrators need to be brought to justice, but this cannot be used as a pretext for violence in our Florida communities.”
Yet for some, DeSantis’ statement was a case of too little, too late.
“[DeSantis] met with law enforcement officials but has not spent one ounce of energy to understand why the protests are happening in the first place,” Nancy Batista, Florida State Director for Poder Latinx, a civic and social justice organization working to build political empowerment in the Latinx community, told The Americano. “Instead of focusing on how to solve the issue of police brutality, he calls for more crackdowns and in doing so steps right in line with the president’s call to ‘dominate.’”
Following Trump’s Lead
DeSantis’ statement came after a Monday conference call with governors in which President Trump urged state leaders to “dominate” protesters, according to a recording made public by The Washington Post.
“We have to get much tougher,” Trump said on the call, as he pressured states to deploy the National Guard “in big numbers.” “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They are going to run over you, and you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
According to the recording, Trump also proposed that people arrested at protests should serve between five and 10 years in prison.
That same day, DeSantis mobilized the Florida National Guard, sending 150 guardsmen to Miramar, 150 to Camp Blanding, and 100 to Tampa.
A Bid for Suppression
Since Trump’s election in 2016, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests after a series of protests over police shootings of unarmed Black men and Trump’s inauguration spread across the nation. Civil liberties experts called it “an attack on protest rights.”
But some will not give up the right to assemble without a fight. “Laws that restrict the right for self-expression and protest are clearly unconstitutional and will be tested in the courts of this nation. For now, we will continue speaking up on the streets and supporting our black brother and sisters until we change the racist institutions that have led us where we are today,” says Batista.
That Gov. DeSantis follows President Trump’s playbook to the letter also is no surprise. In the general elections for the governorship of the state, he advocated for stricter immigration laws, for repealing former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and declared himself against legislation for stricter gun control measures, even after 17 people, most of them students, were killed during a shooting rampage at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Throughout his political career, DeSantis has presented himself as an extension of Trump’s conservatism. For that, he has the president’s unwavering support. In fact, even as other states pleaded for personal protective equipment for its front line workers during the coronavirus pandemic, Florida received preferential treatment and Trump praised DeSantis for “doing a great job.”