Florida’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, is in the news again, this time for signing into law a controversial “anti-riot” bill. The measure vastly increases law enforcement power to crack down on any protests, riots or civil unrest, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The bill passed mostly along party lines on Monday and has been criticized by Democrats and civil rights groups for infringing on the First Amendment right to protest.
DeSantis proudly touted the bill in a press conference from Winter Haven:
“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. There’s just nothing even close.”
Other speakers at the presser described the new law as something to protect law enforcement officials as well as private property against rioters. They also noted, perhaps contradicting themselves, that their state saw very little violent unrest or rioting during last year’s protests over the police-killing of George Floyd.
The law grants immunity to people who drive a vehicle through protesters blocking roads, which critics point out would have protected the white nationalist who killed counter-protester Heather Heyer during the Charlottesville, Virginia protests in 2017 by running over her with his car.
The bill also allows police to arrest for a broad spectrum of misdemeanor offenses during protests. Protestors charged under the provision will be denied bail until they appear in court for the first time. DeSantis said one of the goals of the measure is to prevent people from rejoining protests after arrest.
Agreeing with DeSantis, Republican state House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Attorney General Ashley Moody bashed other states and cities for their approach to rioting, and State CFO Jimmy Patronis claimed, exaggerating the issue, that the cities of Portland, New York, and Seattle “burned to the ground” last year during the Floyd protests.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd warned fellow Floridians:
“don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way they did up north and get what they got.”
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project analyzed BLM demonstrations such as the George Floyd protests last year and their findings showed that about 220 out of 2,400 protests reported violence, but again, almost none of those took place in Florida.
Critics claim the bill is unconstitutional and will have an effect on all demonstrations and protests.
Florida Democrat Shevrin Jones, who represents the West Park area in the state Senate, explains his opposition:
“[the law] undermines every Floridian’s constitutional rights, and it is disgusting that the GOP would rather empower vigilantes and silence voices than listen to the majority of Floridians who oppose this dangerous bill. The governor’s spectacle is a distraction that will only further disenfranchise Black and brown communities.”
Gov. DeSantis has had a rough go of things lately
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is suing the state of Florida on behalf of two woman for voter suppression, according to a report by 19thnews.
After being disenfranchised over not being allowed to vote in 2020, Rosemary McCoy put boots to the ground in Duval County, Florida, asking people if they would exercise their right to vote because she and many others couldn’t exercise theirs. “Is it possible for you to go out and vote to support me?” McCoy asked Duval County residents.
After nearly 2/3 of the state voted to restore the right to vote to those convicted of felony offenses, McCoy and more than 700,000 Floridians lost access to the voting box in 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 7066 into law, requiring formerly incarcerated people to pay any restitution, fines, fees or court costs, legal financial obligations, before officially regaining the right to vote, disenfranchising many in that position.
McCoy learned that she owed about $7,500, including interest, and her county was requiring her to pay it all at once.
The SPLC, which sued Florida on behalf of McCoy and woman named Sheila Singleton, is asking an appeals court to require a new analysis of the nation’s sole felony disenfranchisement lawsuit, alleging a violation of the 19th Amendment. Lower courts dismissed the SPLC’s analysis of the law’s “undue burden” on women of color.
McCoy likened the law to slavery:
“It’s sad that here we are in 2021, and we’re still discussing this same issue. There’s only one purpose of taking your voting rights away from you, and that is so that you can be a slave. No one can change my mind about this … If a woman is a slave, her children and grandchildren are a slave.”
The SPLC accused Florida of violating amendments that restored voting rights to the formerly enslaved and violating the 19th Amendment, which gave some women the right to vote.
Lower courts upheld Florida’s felony disenfranchisement laws in September, but McCoy’s lawyers now want the court to weigh in on The 19th Amendment more directly because of the law’s disparate impact on women of color.
Lawyers for the state of Florida argue that McCoy and her legal team have not proven that lawmakers and the governor intended to disenfranchise women. Nancy Abudu, however, as deputy legal director for the SPLC, filed an appeal for Florida to focus on the impact of this law on specifically women of color:
“We have to move away from having to prove that people are racist and sexist. If that is our burden of proof, then we might as well not bring any of these cases. Instead, we need to focus on what is the impact of these laws. You can’t feel comfortable with a system that incarcerates mostly poor Black people just because the system doesn’t say arrest poor Black people.”
“If I can’t vote, it’s hard for me to guide the direction of my grandson,” McCoy said. “I need to vote. I need to vote for things that matter to my family, my community, my state and the United States of America.”
Attorneys representing DeSantis and Florida’s secretary of state did not respond to a request for comment by 19thNews.