JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville civil rights leader plans to speak before a United Nations human rights committee in Switzerland next Tuesday.
Ben Frazier is the founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville and has been one of the most vocal activists against several recent laws passed in Florida, including one dealing with protests.
In an interview with New4JAX, Frazier mentioned several recent laws that he described as “violations of human rights.” However, in his address to the UN Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination, Frazier is particularly speaking out against HB-1, which passed last year and was nicknamed the “anti-riot” bill.
Today, surrounded by our state’s law enforcement community, I proudly signed HB 1 into law, which makes clear that rioting and violence have absolutely no place in Florida and provides protections for the brave men and women who keep our communities safe. pic.twitter.com/ULs6cx8xzy— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 19, 2021
The UN Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD) comprises professionals from eighteen different countries, representing those countries and monitoring human rights violations across the globe.
The Northside Coalition is suing Gov. Ron DeSantis over the bill. The bill raises the penalties for violence, burglary, looting and property damage, and also said that anyone taking part in a peaceful protest that turns violent is also responsible.
Frazier said the lawsuit argues that the law restricts free speech.
“What we’re saying with HB-1 is ambiguous and vague and a violation of my first amendment rights to protest and to assemble. That’s basic,” Frazier said.
Aside from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Frazier said the law also violates an international treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994 called the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Sponsors argued that the law, which was passed in response to the death of George Floyd, doesn’t technically say anything about peaceful protests and it’s only meant to punish those who act violently.
“The 2.1 thing is that this law does is it chills the right, it frightens people from wanting to go out and utilize their First Amendment rights.
What Frazier means by “chill” is that the law doesn’t outright ban protests but effectively makes people think twice before taking part in even a peaceful protest over the fear of inadvertently violating the law.
“We let thousands of people into the street because we were angry. We recognize that there was a need for police reform. The governor didn’t like that. Well, why not? It is American. It is democratic to utilize and exercise our First Amendment right. That is what we did. [DeSantis] has now engineered a law designed to stifle our First Amendment right,” Frazier said.
Frazier also said the same type of chilling effect applies to the laws passed that restrict how sexual orientation, gender identity and American history are taught in schools.