TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial Republican-backed bill that increases penalties for those who participate in protests that turn violent and makes it harder to take away funding from law enforcement agencies, Democrats took to the steps of the Florida Capitol on Monday afternoon to call the new laws unconstitutional.
“Gov. DeSantis and his actions today go to show that he’s not concerned about the lives of Black and brown, people who so happened to be citizens of this diverse state that many of us call home,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens. “If he was concerned, he would have addressed the killings of Black men by the hands of police officers. If he was concerned, he would have addressed and acknowledged the gun violence that’s running rampant in communities across this state, but he chose to stay silent on these issues.”
The lawmakers said the laws will be challenged in court and the leaders said they are willing to take the fight to federal court, if necessary.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, who is expected to run for governor against DeSantis in 2022, said she was heartbroken by what she saw Monday.
“Today, governor, you’ve made it more dangerous for the people here in our state, who want to stand up against injustice and make changes to society,” Fried said. “We all would not be here today if it wasn’t for our forefathers or people that stood beforehand, protesting, standing up against injustice, standing up to give all of us the right to vote.”
The new laws, that immediately went into effect, increase penalties for crimes during a riot or violent protest, won’t allow people arrested in violent protests to be released from jail before a first court appearance and makes it a felony to organize or participate in a violent demonstration. It also protects all monuments in Florida with enhanced sentences of up to 10 years.
DeSantis called it the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.
Rep. Angie Nixon, who represents part of Jacksonville in the Florida House, referred to the new laws, formerly known as House Bill 1, as “Hate Bill 1.”
“I just want to tell everyone get mad, but take it to the streets and take it to the ballot box,” Nixon said. “This bill is designed to keep us in check. They want us to stay in our places, but if we stayed in our places, people like me who looked like me wouldn’t be representing Florida House District 14. And so I’m here to tell them that my mama raised someone who is not afraid to use her voice, who is not afraid to put boots on the ground and who was not afraid to organize.”
The lawmakers who spoke Monday noted that in signing the bill, DeSantis made reference to the civil unrest that followed the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, calling them ‘violent assemblies’, but failed to mention the mob violence that happened on Jan. 6 when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
“[DeSantis] made it clear that he was setting the stage for what may happen if Derek Chauvin is acquitted for murdering George Floyd,” Jones said.