The measure has been widely denounced by Florida Democrats as a measure that “promises selective enforcement against people of color.”
Wednesday evening, after a violent mob of right-win extremists stormed the Capitol building in Washington, breaking windows, assaulting police officers, and ransacking private offices, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis filed a proposal he initially disclosed last September, and which has been widely criticized by the state’s Democrats.
Bills SB 484 and HB 1, which DeSantis has prioritized ahead of the March 2 legislative session, seek to increase penalties for protesters who engage in violent acts such as assaulting a police officer and damaging or destroying property.
The measure would also ban the practice of blocking roadways and, most controversially, protect drivers who drive through them from criminal liability.
“It’s About Race”
This has raised some concern among Florida Democrats, who believe that the measure would be disproportionately applied against African-Americans, since it was developed last summer following the Black Lives Matter protests that took place after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis by a white police officer who subdued him with a knee to the neck while ignoring his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
In late May and early June, Central Florida saw Black Lives Matter protests that largely remained peaceful, with only a handful of looting incidents that took place usually after most of the protests had been dismantled.
“This is about power, and it’s about race,” Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, said Monday during a video teleconference with reporters. “This particular bill is about maintaining power for certain people and denying power to other people.”
“As a father trying to raise four young Black men and boys in this state, this terrifies me,” said House Minority Co-Leader Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale. And Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, denounced the bill as a measure that “promises selective enforcement against people of color.”
For his part, DeSantis—who did not take the opportunity to denounce Trump for inciting the attack—said on Tuesday during the inauguration of a new coronavirus vaccination site in The Villages that the legislation would protect Florida from mob revolts similar to Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol, and is a clear way to convey that “Florida means business.”
The state’s Democrats, however, weren’t buying it. Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, had strong words for the governor’s plan. “Following the repugnant display of treason that we saw during last week’s assault on our capitol, this bill has been rebranded and the governor’s office is now saying that it’s in response to that.”
Denounced as Unnecessary
In September, when the governor’s office first unveiled the measure, Rep. Anna Eskamani was among those who denounced it as unnecessary,
“The reality is there already are rules in the book when it comes to damaging property and violence to other people including law enforcement,” Eskamani said. “We don’t need these types of punitive increases of criminal penalties that are designed to create fear in our community.”