Judge Strikes Down Florida’s Anti-Riot Law

Black Lives Matter protestors crowd Biscayne Bay on May 30, 2020 sparked by the killing of George Floyd. Jesse Fraga / PantherNOW

Emiliana Fawley-Puello / Staff Writer

A U.S. district judge blocked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-riot law on Sept. 9, five months after being signed into law. One student is ready to make her voice heard without repercussions.

Judge Mark Walker found the law – signed on April 19 – unconstitutional as it contradicts the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.

DeSantis’ law, Combating Public Disorder Act, aimed to contain public protests and stop them from becoming violent.

“My initial thought is that the law [was] unclear as to what it exactly prevents,” said Howard Wasserman, professor of law and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at FIU’s College of Law. “They tried to broaden the definition of riots to reach protestors.”

Howard Wasserman, professor of law and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at FIU’s College of Law. Photo via FIU Directory.

The law took away protestors’ right to bail out of jail immediately. If a protester was arrested for violence, they would remain in custody until their court hearing, and result in either second or third-degree felony charges, according to the Miami New Times.

This was set to be “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,” said DeSantis at a press conference in Winter Haven, Fl. following the act’s passing.

Kayla Woodie, a Black woman who studies public relations at FIU, felt threatened.

“It makes me more cautious to go out and protest because now I fear that either I’ll be thrown in jail or that I’ll lose my life due to police brutality,” said Woodie.

Critics feared peaceful protesters would face the risk of criminal charges, and tickets issued by law enforcement.

This raised concerns among lawmakers and legal experts when the law was subjected to First Amendment tests.

Members of Law360, a legal analytics organization, said the law incorrectly labels a protest as a riot.

“The lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians,” said Walker in a statement on Sept. 9.

The ruling came with backlash from DeSantis’ administration.

The state already motioned to take the case to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to an NPR report. DeSantis was optimistic, as he said he usually wins appeals against Tallahassee judges, during an appearance in New Port Richey, according to WLRN.

The law prevented Woodie from standing up for a cause which hit close to home. She felt the duty to take a public stance against police brutality through protests.

“I do think [the law] was racially motivated, being that most police displayed excessive force during the Black Lives Matter protests last year,” Woodie told PantherNOW.

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