Controversial ‘anti-riot’ bill passed, but one state attorney says it’s not needed

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – House Bill 1, or the so-called “Anti-riot” bill, is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

The bill sparked controversy and division among Republicans, Democrats and their constituents.

Business owners in downtown Jacksonville say the protests in May that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer grew chaotic.

Freddie Ghobad said he’s never seen anything like it.

“We saw tear gas being thrown and smoke canisters and pepper spray in the air,” said Ghobad, owner of Casa Dora Italian.

His restaurant on East Forsyth wasn’t damaged, but some businesses downtown were. News4Jax asked if he was in fear for his business.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen. We were more in fear of anybody getting hurt then a window getting broken,” Ghobad explained.

Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed HB1 to “combat violence, disorder, looting, and protect law enforcement.”

It increases 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.

Andrew Warren, State Attorney for the 13th  Judicial Circuit, said passing laws doesn’t prevent crime before it happens.

“It doesn’t give prosecutors any additional tools that we don’t already have to prosecute people who are committing crimes during a riot,” Warren said. “And enhancing penalties is a pretty lazy and ineffective way to address public safety.”

Warren said the bill threatens First Amendment freedoms. He said if 100 people are peacefully protesting and three people do something bad, the other 97 are guilty of participating because they were there.

Ghobad said he’s on the fence about the soon-to-be law, but said it seems like nobody wins.

“It’s a tragedy both ways but things can get fixed, a life taken cannot be brought back. And I think that part should be taking much more care and attention. But on the other side, those people should not damage their community,” he said.

Warren said there are already laws to protect businesses like Gohbad’s.

The trial for Derek Chauvin in the death of Floyd is still going on, and there have been more police killings recently across the nation that could spark protests in Jacksonville and across the state.

DeSantis could sign HB1 as early as next week.


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