TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s top Republicans cited events in cities around the country — but not the Jan. 6 riots in Washington — as Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday to create tougher penalties for people who participate in violent protests.
The so-called anti-riot bill was a response to protests around the country because of police violence against African-Americans. After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, Republicans pushing the legislation used it as an example to support the effort.
But the Capitol riots weren’t mentioned as the bill was signed by DeSantis, who criticized the Minnesota attorney general at the same time closing arguments were taking place in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after Chauvin put a knee on his neck for almost 10 minutes.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can tell you that case was bungled by the attorney general there in Minnesota. They didn’t handle it properly, so there may be some people disappointed,” DeSantis said.
Opponents of the bill said it was a racist reaction to a problem that hasn’t occurred in Florida. They saw it as an attempt to squash the voices of groups like Black Lives Matter.
“Not only is this racist at its core, but it’s also a reaction to what occurred over the summer after the death of George Floyd,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones. “The governor made no mention of the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
He also noted that the governor made mention of the Chauvin trial with the expectation that there could be protests if Chauvin is acquitted.
“So he alluded to the verdict being not in the favor of justice, and so he says ‘We want to be prepared,’” Jones said. “Be prepared for what? Not prepared for the white supremacists who stormed the Capitol, but he wants to be prepared for the demonstrations that will take place around this country if Derrick Chauvin is acquitted,”
The new law will enhance penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. It will allow authorities to hold arrested protesters until a first court appearance and will establish new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
It also strips local governments of civil liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement’s efforts to respond to a violent protest and adds language to state law that could force local governments to justify a reduction in law enforcement budgets.
It will make it a second-degree felony to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events. That would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
DeSantis was surrounded by the state’s highest ranking Republicans when he signed the bill — Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
While protests in Seattle, Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon were repeatedly mentioned at the news conference, the Washington, D.C. riot wasn’t discussed.
“Those cities are being ravaged by crime as a result of that lawlessness,” Sprowls said. “The leadership or lack thereof in those cities who stood down and stood back and said, ‘We’re not going to arrest people for committing crimes, we’re not going to arrest people who are being violent or hurting police officers. Who they’re hurting most are the people who need their protection the most.”