On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed his plan to curb violence at racial justice demonstrations by introducing a proposal that would impose harsh criminal penalties for “violent or disorderly assemblies”—a move that has left organizers fuming about its potential impact on the Black community.
The Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act would charge people who cause damage or incite violence during protests with a third-degree felony; it also proposes a mandatory six-month jail sentence for striking a law enforcement officer during a protest and prohibits bail until after the first court appearance.
“Gov. DeSantis’ proposal is undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, in a statement. “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.”
In a news conference Monday, DeSantis used the unrest in the country as motivation for the crackdown. He also said he hopes to figure out who is organizing and funding violent assemblies and vowed to hold them accountable.
“I think this has been a really sad chapter in American history,” DeSantis said during the news conference. “I think we need to do more in terms of having legislative response so that we do not always have to play whack a mole any time a situation like this develops.”
Under the new set of proposals, government aid would be withheld from cities aiming to defund police departments and also provide legal liability for drivers who are “fleeing for safety from a mob.” The bill has support from the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association.
If convicted of a felony, protestors in Florida could face some heavier consequences than jail time. Being convicted of a felony can affect a person’s ability to be employed. Additionally, DeSantis’ proposal comes on the heels of efforts to remove financial barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated people from voting. Despite the passing of Amendment 4 in 2018, which restored voting rights to people convicted of felonies, formerly incarcerated people still face some difficulties at the ballot box.
“Let me be clear: Gov. DeSantis is proposing legislation that would effectively legalize violence against protesters in the state of Florida,” said Andrea Mercado, executive director of the New Florida Majority, in a statement. “One of the most sacred aspects of our American democracy is the freedom to express dissent without the fear of state-sanctioned violence. The governor’s proposed legislation is a direct threat to this freedom.”