Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis calls for legislation aimed at cracking down on disorderly protests

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis released a sweeping set of proposals on Monday that would dramatically crack down on people who attend protests that turn violent or disorderly by threatening them with a mix of felonies and increased jail time.

The proposals, which DeSantis, a Republican, called the “boldest and most comprehensive” piece of legislation on the issues of civil disobedience and protest in the US, were aimed squarely at “those who target law enforcement and participate in violent or disorderly assemblies,” he said in a tweet.

Collectively, the proposed legislation represents a dramatic — if still merely proposed — escalation in the Florida governor’s embrace of President Donald Trump’s calls for “law and order.”

Those followed a summer of nationwide protests have taken place in cities since the killing of George Floyd on May 25 by Minneapolis police officers. While the wide majority of the protests remained peaceful — a report from September 4 found that 93% of racial justice protests since Floyd’s death have been peaceful and nondestructive — a minority were interrupted by violence.

DeSantis said the proposal, which was introduced at a Monday press conference — called the Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act — would impose stiff criminal penalties for actions such as blocking roadways, disrupting restaurants or toppling monuments.

“You see videos of these innocent people eating dinner and you have these crazed lunatics just screaming at them and intimidating them on a public accommodation,” DeSantis said. “You aren’t going to do that in state of Florida.”

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, responded to the proposal in a statement, calling it “undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values.”

“This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” Kubic said.

Among the proposals is a measure allowing motorists to be waived of liability should they happen to kill or injure a protester with their vehicles while “fleeing for safety from a mob.”

The governor said the legislation also enables the state to use RICO liability against anyone who organizes or funds these kinds of “disorderly assemblies,” and he cited the handling of Portland’s protest as an example of what not to do.

“What you have to have is clear and predictable penalties,” DeSantis said. “I look at what goes on in Portland and they’ll have people, they’ll arrest them. These are scraggly looking Antifa types. They get their mugshot taken and then they get released. And it’s like a carousel and on and on it goes.”

“This is a very robust package. I think what it’s saying is we are not going to let Florida go down the road that some of these other place have gone,” DeSantis said.

According to the governor’s office, the next legislative session commences in March 2021 but committees will begin meeting later this year to begin the process of crafting the language of the bill and finding sponsors.