FL governor signs pro-cop, anti-protest legislation into law; critics say it undermines Constitutional rights

By: - April 19, 2021 12:09 pm

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, displaying a photo of a peaceful protest and a photo of a riot, warned at a press conference Monday, “Pay attention. We’ve got a new law.” At right are Gov. DeSantis and behind him, Senate President Wilton Simpson. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Monday the pro-police, anti-protest legislation he has been pushing since September in the wake of civil unrest last summer.

It takes effect immediately.

The governor signed the law at a press conference held at the Polk County Sheriff’s Department with 28 law-enforcement representatives and four of Florida’s top Republican elected officials in attendance.

“Pay attention. We’ve got a new law,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, issuing a warning to would-be protesters that law enforcement in Florida now is more empowered than ever to quell civil unrest.

DeSantis announced his desire for this legislation last fall following widespread protests and isolated riots following the killing by police of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man arrested on a non-violent charge last May.

The bill-signing coincides with the commencement of closing arguments in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the since-fired Minneapolis police officer charged with killing Floyd by kneeling on his neck until he died.

“It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country. There’s just nothing even close,” DeSantis claimed, referring to House Bill 1, the first bill introduced in the House of Representatives in the 2021 legislative session. The governor didn’t provide details on whether Florida indeed will have the strongest bill in the nation.

Also present with law-enforcement representatives were a bevy of Republican state officials: Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, and the co-sponsors of HB 1: Sen. Danny Burgess, whose district includes Polk County, and Rep. Juan Fernandez Barquin, of Miami-Dade.

None of them wore a face mask or used social distancing in the indoor news conference, in disregard of the practices recommended by health authorities to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Not one of them mentioned Black Lives Matter and police brutality against people of color that has been recorded on video across the country, fanning the flames of protest.

The legislation intensifies penalties for the existing crimes of violence and looting, including mandatory jail stays for people arrested at a gathering where something illegal happens and up to 15 years imprisonment for the worst kinds of disorder.

It also prevents local governments from reducing funding for law enforcement for any reason, even for shifting some portion to public-safety programs that police-reform advocates say pose less risk of violent encounters between police and the policed.

“We’ll be able to stop it at the state level … even just diverting some of the funding,” DeSantis said. “It’s an insane theory. It’s not going to be allowed to ever carry the day in the state of Florida.”

The legislation also removes sovereign immunity that would protect municipalities from charges that they neglected to provide adequate security against disorder during a protest or riot.

It creates a new crime, called mob intimidation, to prevent a “crazed mob” from intimidating anyone, and it intensifies criminal penalties for damaging an historical monument or private property.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Dade counties, was quick to denounce the new law, representing the fierce opposition to the bill that was mounted by Florida Democratic leaders and especially by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

“This legislation undermines every Floridian’s constitutional rights, and it is disgusting that the GOP would rather empower vigilantes and silence voices than listen to the majority of Floridians who oppose this dangerous bill. The governor’s press conference spectacle was a distraction that will only further disenfranchise Black and Brown communities,” Jones said in a statement to the press.

“We need to deliver much-needed relief to those hurting from the pandemic, from families grieving after losing loved ones, to workers whose hours have been cut, to small businesses forced to shutter, to our schools — not waste more time flaming divisive rhetoric that will tear more people apart.”

The original version of this report cited an incorrect title for Sen. Shevrin Jones. It has been corrected from Rep. Jones to Sen. Jones.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]