Inside Florida's Radical "Anti-riot" law

Thursday, April 22

By Lauren Martin

This summer, American cities saw the brunt force of decades of injustice. Protesters gathered in the streets after the murder of George Floyd, who was suffocated to death after former officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to Mr. Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The video of this occurrence spread on social media, drawing international attention. Throughout the protests, acts of looting were amplified, attracting the attention of the media and political authorities. When former president Donald Trump spoke about the demonstrators, he referred to protesters as "terrorists, "Marxists, and 'left-wing radicals' whose goal was to destroy the country. 

According to The Washington Post, only 3.7% of protests involved property damage- leaving 97.7% of demonstrations entirely peaceful as reported by police, participants, and bystanders. In many cases, police reportedly indicated violent cases, as a master list published by the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica displays. 

Despite the statistical evidence, G.O.P. lawmakers continue to push anti-protest legislation. In the 2021 legislative session alone, G.O.P. lawmakers in 34 states have made 81 anti-protest bills, labeling them 'anti-riot bills. Flordias' anti-riot bill is incredibly radical and creates substantial restrictions on free speech. 

The law, which went into effect Monday, April, 19th- grants civil immunity to people who drive cars through protesters blocking a street. Driving vehicles through protesters is an often deadly form of silencing demonstrators, with incidents of occurrence in Times Square during the B.L.M. protests and in Charlottesville, VA's 'Unite The Right' rallies, in which far-right groups participated, and ultimately murderer a counter-protester and injured another 19 by driving a car through the group's peaceful protest. The bill will also require authorities to deny bail to anyone arrested at a protest until their court case. 

Additionally, the bill also creates a new crime- 'Mob Intimidation,' which is classified as a group of three or more attempting to 'change someone's viewpoint' with violence or the threat of violence. It will also significantly raise the punishment of 'tearing down' memorials dedicated to honoring 'a historical person, an entity, an event, or series of events to a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. 

Orlando-based civil rights attorney Aaron Carter Bates on behalf of the Lawyers Matter Task Force, a nonprofit advocacy group, called the law unconstitutional and filed for federal lawsuit Wend. April 21st, stating "The purpose of these laws are nothing more than an attempt to silence the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil organizations by limiting the ability to protest, "The First Amendment is a pillar of American democracy, and the 'anti-riot laws clearly strip Floridians of their freedom of speech and right to assemble."

The lawsuit states that the statutes are 'unconstitutional,' target "protected speech under the first amendment," and are written with the intent to classify any protester as a rioter. 

The law also holds peaceful protesters accountable for the actions of others and doesn't specify what 'inciting a riot' entails, violating the 14ths amendment due process clause. 

As of April 21st, 2021, the law remains currently enforceable. 


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