DeSantis’ Anti-Protest Bill Is An Assault On Our Liberties

Crowds gathered at Biscayne to protest the killing of George Floyd in May. Jesse Fraga/PantherNOW

Anjuli Castano/Staff Writer

On September 21, Florida Governor Ron Desantis proposed a bill notable for its austerity. The bill, titled “Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” will charge protestors who participate in “disorderly assemblies” with third degree felonies. This is one way in which the bill represses and even endangers protesters. 

What is most concerning though, is not the supposed “crack-down” on these “scraggly looking Antifa types” as Desantis said. What I fear are the larger implications of empowering the police force against people wanting to protest and the inevitable state sanctioned violence that would occur. 

Along with the third degree felonies given to “disorderly” groups of more than seven people, Desantis is also trying to enact the RICO act against people who organize or fund these protests. In my experience protesting in Miami-Dade, most large protests, no matter how peaceful, have been deemed “unlawful” and “disorderly.” 

What would happen to community organizers who set up bail funds, or crowdfund to provide supplies such as PPE and water for a protest? Are these organizers going to be charged with racketeering and face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of six months as stated in the proposal

Under Prohibition on Obstructing Roadways, it states that a “driver is not liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.” As we’ve seen in the past few months, white supremacist groups and even the police have used their vehicels to run over crowds of people. 

When a Governor is allowed to say he will “not permit localities to defund the police,” that is taking away your freedom of choice in our representative democracy. 

Similar occurrences have taken place in Miami-Dade, a notable example being community organizer Jonni Quest who was struck by an SUV carrying a “Cubans 4 Trump” flag in July. The motorist was never found or charged but now this clause would give him legal immunity. Empowering hate groups in this manner endangers the lives of protestors simply fighting for justice. 

If it wasn’t clear enough on how this bill intends to silence opposition, DeSantis wants to punish municipalities who wish to defund their police departments by prohibiting state grants and aid to local governments who divest from the police budget. To me, this is an unbridled threat to our democratic process and our constitutional rights. Even for those who do not protest, when a Governor is allowed to say he will “not permit localities to defund the police,” that is taking away your freedom of choice in our representative democracy. 

Peaceful protests have been met with aggressive policing since the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement with the death of George Floyd in May of this year. The reputable Miami-Dade activist,\ and founder of Protect the Land, Dulcee Barnes, has been at the forefront of the South Florida struggle against systemic racism, providing jail support with a court watch program and bail fund. 

Dulcee recounts her first interactions with law enforcement as “a violation of my rights.” She says her first arrest happened when she was pulled off the sidewalk while recording another officer conducting an unlawful arrest at a protest. 

Arrests in Miami-Dade have only become more targeted and threatening. If cops already feel comfortable using excessive force and carrying out unlawful arrests, imagine how they would feel if this bill is passed. 

Supporters of the bill will say it is not stripping us of our constitutional rights, but it is. The ramifications of a bill like this are what scare Ana Sofia Pelaez, co-founder of the Miami Freedom Project, the most. Pelaez acknowledges there will be “changes that won’t come about” because people will feel hesitant to support a cause for fear of state retribution. Anti-protesting sentiment from our government “limits free speech and agency” of the people. 

There is a democratic principle of prioritizing a space for people to assemble and protest. That is the reason why we support freedom of speech and assembly, so we can have constructive conversations which lead to positive change. 

This exact principle will be challenged in March 2021 where Desantis says the bill “will be the focal point of the next legislative session.” Our elected Florida Governor wants to have “a ton of bricks raining down” on whoever questions the unjust systems which police us. 

If you care for your democratic freedoms and do not want to see tyranny sweep the nation, join your local political organization to build a united front against harmful bills such as this one.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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