JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Memorial Day weekend marks one year since protests triggered by the death of George Floyd erupted in communities across the country, including here in Northeast Florida.
Those demonstrations carried on for two days in Jacksonville. At one point on May 30, 2021, at least 200 protesters clashed with police downtown, throwing rocks and bottles of water and trying to set a police vehicle on fire, according to city officials. One officer suffered an injury to his neck.
But in the weeks and months that followed, the State Attorney’s Office elected to dismiss charges for roughly five dozen people taken into custody in the wake of the protests during that two-day span. Besides that, a lot has changed in the year since those protests.
Perhaps the biggest change to result from the unrest is a so-called anti-riot bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April. The legislation cracks down on protests that turn violent, imposing stiff legal penalties on those responsible for violence or damage to public and private property.
Among other things, the law: increases penalties for crimes that occur during a riot or violent protest; bars the release of defendants arrested in violent protests before making their first court appearance; makes it a felony to organize or participate in a violent demonstration; and protects all monuments.
The law, which has come under scrutiny from critics and First Amendment advocates alike, faces legal challenges including a federal lawsuit over its potential impact on civil liberties.
Another product of the protests was a change made by State Attorney Melissa Nelson, whose office oversees prosecutions in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. The agency now says body camera footage can be released within 30 days, unless law enforcement believes it will hinder a case.