Florida’s controversial anti-riot bill was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday, imposing the country’s most stringent restrictions on protesters. House Bill 1 went into effect immediately.
At a press conference in Polk County Monday, DeSantis praised the bill as a “pro-law enforcement” measure and said it was needed to prevent the disorder seen in other cities last summer and throughout the past year.
“It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,” DeSantis said.
The next day, a landmark jury verdict out of Minneapolis struck the nation, as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted guilty on all counts for the killing of George Floyd.
Maxwell Frost, national organizing director of March For Our Lives, said the accountability brought by Chauvin’s verdict is a result of the protesting and organizing seen nationwide throughout the past year.
“You know, the work that we all did across this country pushed the national discourse, also pushed new people to be elected into office and it also pushed for this verdict,” Frost said.
With HB 1 now in effect, Frost said he is concerned people will be discouraged from protesting to continue demanding the kind of accountability seen in Minneapolis.
“There are gonna be people out there who say, ‘Hey look, I want to go out but I’m scared… I don’t want to go to jail for six months, I don’t want to have a felony,’ because then they lose their right to vote,” he said.
Frost said he was happy to see accountability upheld in Chauvin’s verdict, but emphasized true justice would be Floyd being alive.
Manu Osorio, lead organizer at the Dream Defenders Gainesville-based “Goddsville Squadd,” largely echoed Frost’s view on the verdict.
“I do think it was the system trying to hold itself together and avoid a continuation of protests in the summer,” Osorio said.
March For Our Lives and Dream Defenders have been two of the organizations prominently opposing HB 1 throughout Florida. Frost said March For Our Lives will continue speaking out against this law with safe protests, community events and litigation.
“We’re gonna keep fighting this bill, there’s gonna be litigation — it’s gonna take a few years — but we’re gonna continue to fight for what we believe in,” Frost said. “It’s not gonna change our resolve.”
The law includes several provisions, including the creation of a new “mob intimidation” crime and a motion to limit local municipalities’ ability to decrease funding of local law enforcement. Increased penalties for protesters blocking roadways or defacing public monuments are also embedded in the law, as well as a requirement that people arrested at protests be denied bail until their first court appearance.
“This is a scary bill,” Frost said. “It is going to affect protesting in Florida in a negative way . . . But what I’ll say is this: I believe in the organizers here, we’re gonna continue to hit the streets no matter what. We’re gonna do so in a little different way, to ensure the safety of the protesters.”
Osorio also said she was disappointed but not surprised to see the legislation go through. She said the group will continue fighting for their vision of justice, with a focus on community work.
“As much as Ron DeSantis wants to push this and stifle the movement and make everyone afraid, our movement’s already been dealing with a lot,” Osorio said. “And this isn’t gonna stop us.”
Gainesville Police spokesman Graham Glover said GPD can only say they will as always enforce the laws set by the government.
“We will review that, seek to understand the contents of that bill and subsequently will follow through on what’s contained in the bill and what it asks of local law enforcement agencies,” Glover said. He also said GPD has a great relationship with its community and believes that will continue.
GPD also issued a press release Wednesday detailing Chief Tony Jones’ comment on the Chauvin verdict:
“As your police chief, I can assure you the Gainesville Police Department will continue to work with our neighbors, partnering with them to ensure that our department’s encounters are constitutional and performed with compassion and consistency.”