Florida 'Anti-Riot' Bill Will Make It Legal To Murder Protestors With Cars
On August 12, 2017, neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. In 2019, Fields was sentenced to life in prison plus 419 years.
But if it were up to Republicans in the Florida legislature, he'd be free. Not because they believe in prison abolition (this is, after all, Florida) or are concerned about the wider effects of inflating prison sentences beyond a natural human life — nope! They just want what he did to not be a crime at all.
On Thursday, the Florida Senate passed the Ron DeSantis-approved House Bill 1, the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act, by a vote of 23-17, and it's exactly as bad as you think it would be. Possibly even worse.
The bill creates several new criminal offenses related to protesting, fairly specifically targeting left-wing protests against police violence and Confederate monuments. It basically makes it a crime to attend or organize a protest that gets violent or "destructive," but makes it legal to run over protestors with one's car.
A. Prohibition on Violent or Disorderly Assemblies: 3rd degree felony when 7 or more persons are involved in an assembly and cause damage to property or injury to other persons
B. Prohibition on Obstructing Roadways: 3rd degree felony to obstruct traffic during an unpermitted protest, demonstration or violent or disorderly assembly; driver is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.
C. Prohibition on Destroying or Toppling Monuments: 2nd degree felony to destroy public property during a violent or disorderly assembly.
D. Prohibition on Harassment in Public Accommodations: 1st degree misdemeanor for a participant in a violent or disorderly assembly to harass or intimidate a person at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant.
E. RICO Liability: RICO liability attaches to anyone who organizes or funds a violent or disorderly assembly.
The majority of these are felonies — meaning that even after people convicted of breaking these laws serve their time, it will be difficult for them to find jobs and it will be difficult for them to vote. Although Floridians voted to restore voting rights to felons a few years back, in practice, it doesn't work out so well.
But wait, it actually gets worse! The bill also includes a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for striking a police officer, including with a projectile. This means that hypothetically, if someone happened to throw something that happened to hit a police officer during a protest, they would have to spend at least six months in prison. The language in the bill suggests that this would not be the case were the incident to occur outside of a protest.
Additionally, people who are "convicted" of merely participating in a "violent or disorderly assembly" can lose any government benefits they receive and become ineligible for employment by state or local government. So you go to a protest, it gets violent, you lose your Medicaid or WIC for your kids, or any other benefits you receive.
The bill would also prohibit those convicted of protest-related offenses from being let out on bail or bond before their first court appearance. And it would prohibit local governments from receiving any grants or state aid if they cut police funding, because these assholes are all scared that they might divert funding from the police to programs that might actually help people.
What this bill counts on is the fact that no one has psychic abilities. No one can be sure if a protest they attend or organize or fund will get "violent or disorderly" — and no one can be sure that the police won't send an agent provocateur to make sure it does get "violent or disorderly" in order to justify arresting everyone at said protest. Florida Republicans want people to think, "Well, if I go to this protest, I could, through no fault of my own, go to prison, I could lose my benefits, and someone can legally run me over if they feel like it," and then decide it's better just to stay home.
Ron DeSantis is dying to sign this bill, so it's going to pass. It is going to be the law in Florida until someone challenges it, and we'd better hope it gets in front of a reasonably liberal court or else people in Florida are going to lose their First Amendment rights.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse