Civil rights advocates blast ‘anti-mob’ proposal in Florida

This bill is on the fast track for when lawmakers return to the Capitol.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A bill that would beef up the penalties for violent protests, has passed its first major hurdle in Tallahassee, despite dozens of people speaking out against it.

House Bill 1 was introduced on January 6, the day of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, but was first proposed after a summer of civil rights protests in Florida -- few of which turned violent.

The bill proposes that most crimes committed by protesters be elevated from misdemeanors to felonies.

  • Obstructing traffic during an unpermitted protest would be a felony. The law would remove liability for drivers who strike protestors during a march.
  • It would become a felony to participate in a protest where the property is damaged, public monuments toppled or people harassed at “public accommodations” such as restaurants.
  • Anyone who threw an object at law enforcement officers would be subject to a minimum six-month jail term.
  • People arrested during protests would be denied bail before their initial court hearings. They would have to successfully argue they were no danger to the community before being released.
  • Those who organized or funded “violent” protests would be treated as members of organized crime syndicates.

Civil rights advocates say this bill is blatantly unconstitutional, violating First Amendment rights.

“The governor’s legislation would make it OK for armed vigilantes to run over and kill protestors that is wrong,” Rainbow PUSH National Field Director Tavis Grant said.

69 people spoke out about the bill during a House committee session in Tallahassee. It passed the committee 11-6 in favor.

“The League of Women Voters of Florida strongly believes that this piece of legislation politicizes the right to protest and disregards the protections provided by the First Amendment. One cannot stand for freedom or liberty if you oppose free speech,” President of the Women Voters of Florida Patricia Brigham said.

The proposal would also make a crime of “doxing,” the posting of private information about people on social media sites, when such data is published with the intent to “threaten, intimidate, harass, incite violence ...or place a person in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, said violence committed by a large group of people is worse than individual violence and not acceptable in society.

“When an individual is in a group, that individual loses their personal sense of responsibility. And the responsibility is split amongst the group. That individual in that group is capable of doing things that they otherwise would not do if they were by themselves,” he said.

The Florida Republican leaders have also pointed to the attack in Washington, D.C. to bolster the justification for a crackdown on violent protests.

READ: Full text of HB 1

A protest of HB 1 is planned for Saturday in Jacksonville, led by the Northside Coalition. The “Justice for All” rally starts Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Duval County Courthouse.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.