Jacksonville civil rights group calls judge’s ruling on ‘anti-riot’ law a victory

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal judge on Thursday ruled that Florida’s new “anti-riot” law is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

The decision Thursday by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee found the recently enacted law (known as HB1) “vague and overbroad” and amounted to an assault on First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly as well as due process protections. Gov. Ron DeSantis can appeal the ruling.

The lawsuit was filed by the NAACP Florida conference, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward and other groups -- including the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville -- who argued the law is intended to halt protests by Black people and other minorities.

The Northside Coalition calls it a victory, but Ben Frazier -- the organization’s president -- isn’t celebrating yet, saying the fight for the right to peacefully protest is still on.

“We have knocked him down,” Frazier told News4Jax. “We recognize that he’s not out yet, but we also recognize that we have to continue to fight.”

The law, which was signed back in April, invokes harsher penalties during violent protests. It was signed after demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a wave of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial discrimination.

Frazier says the governor’s “anti riot” law has scared off peaceful protesters who are afraid to be caught up in any mass arrests.

“Our ability to get people to come out and protest has been diminished by about 35, 40-percent,” Frazier said.

Though a final, legal determination must be made about HB1, a spokesperson for DeSantis was said they plan to appeal. The order says in part that the laws “...vagueness permits those in power to weaponize its enforcement against any group who wishes to express any message that the government disapproves of...”

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Joy Purdy co-anchors the 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tarik Minor and the 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts with Kent Justice.