JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dozens of people gathered Saturday at the Duval County Courthouse to protest House Bill 1. The proposed bill would increase the penalties for violent protests in Florida.
The bill was introduced on Jan. 6, the day of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, but was first proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis after a summer of civil rights protests in Florida -- few of which turned violent.
The bill was moved forward by a Legislative committee this week, but multiple groups came out Saturday to stand against it, including a group from Chicago who said they are worried Florida will set the precedent for other states who may try to pass this bill.
The Chicago group has been to Florida to protest before, and they say even if this bill is passed, they’ll do it again.
The bill would remove liability for drivers who strike protesters during a march and would make it a felony to participate in a protest where property is damaged or where people are harassed at public accommodations like restaurants.
Anyone throwing objects at law enforcement would face six months in jail.
Those arrested during protests would be denied bail before initial court hearings.
And those who organized or funded violent protests would be treated as members of an organized crime group.
The multiple organizations in Jacksonville on Saturday said this bill makes it impossible to protest in the state and puts a target on those standing up for marginalized communities.
Most of them say had this bill been in place during the protests last summer, many of them would not have been there Saturday.
“We need to kill this bill. It doesn’t matter what the intent is,” said Christina Kittle, of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee. “They can’t handle the power that they already have. We are not going to give them any more power.”
A veteran at the rally said he feels this takes away from what he fought for.
“I feel like it is a proposal that’s being set up to restrict us not so much physically but also mentally and emotionally,” protester Paul Bennett said. “Because once these restrictions are put into place, of course, it will give the police more power, it will give the authorities more power, but at the same time, we will feel more restricted in acting on our basic rights.”
But a state representative said that while protesting is American, rioting should not be tolerated.
“I think House Bill 1 is a much-needed bill for us to do our best to combat public disorder, especially the kind that we’ve seen over the past year in Florida,” said State Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Republican representing District 12. “And, you know, it is American to protest. There’s nothing wrong with protests out, you know, in public spaces, and all of that. But whenever protests turn into riots, and you start to see businesses damaged and burglarized, or you see, you know, other citizens or police getting injured, and you know, things of that nature, then it’s much different than a protest.”
Families of Devon Gregory, Diamonds Ford and Brittany Williams herself spoke out against police brutality, saying this bill won’t stop their fight to get justice for their loved ones.
“We cannot stop. We can’t just move on, and we can’t forget and we can’t turn a deaf ear because it’s not us, because it can be any of us at any time,” Williams said.
Organizers say the bill will encourage more protests across the state because they feel it’s an attempt to silence marginalized communities.
The Northside Coalition is calling on organizations across the country to speak out against the bill.
Democratic State Rep. Angie Nixon is developing a house bill to combat House Bill 1, which prohibits the use of military tactics from the police during protests.