As a multitude of Republican-led states move to restrict the right to vote, Florida is going beyond voter suppression and targeting the 1st Amendment.
HB1 – which its authors are dubbing an “anti-riot” bill – has the potential to criminalize peaceful protests. According to Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (via The Hill):
How easy will it be to stifle political protest in Florida if this new law passes? This easy: Under the new law, if a thousand people are marching peacefully to protest the current leadership, all it will take is for a handful of people to decide to throw a brick through a shop window and the entire crowd will be subject to arrest, a felony conviction and a hefty fine if law enforcement deems the peaceful protest “a riot.” That brick thrower could be an infiltrator acting to deliberately derail a perfectly legal demonstration.
And to make sure that peaceful protesters can’t continue demanding change, they will be denied bail until they see a judge. That’s right. You don’t have to commit a crime yourself or engage in any disorderly and violent conduct; you just need to be exercising your constitutional right to peaceful protest while someone else — with no connection to you — is engaging in such conduct.
Will police and local elected leaders shut down a protest as quickly as that? There’s a good chance they will, and here’s why. [Governor] DeSantis’ bill states that if they don’t, the city itself can be held liable for any amount of personal injury or property damage. This is a radical change in the law, which currently protects municipalities from such sweeping liability, and it will drive local officials to over-militarize their law enforcement response to peaceful protests in an attempt to avoid costly civil litigation.
But how about if no one throws a brick through a window? How about if people with different political positions just yell at each other on the street? No problem, the DeSantis law takes care of that too. The proposed law: “Creates the crime of mob intimidation, prohibiting a mob from forcefully compelling or attempting to compel another person to do any act or to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint.”
Florida is one of at least 11 states where similar legislation has been introduced that would greatly restrict the right to assemble and protest in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.
Image Credit: Mike Shaheen, Flickr