In 2020, countless American cities were rocked by violent riots and destructive looting, and both current events and conventional wisdom indicate the same sort of civil unrest is set to be widespread again this year.
Not so much in Florida, however, after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) just signed into law an expansive “anti-riot” bill that increases the penalties for those engaged in disruptive mob violence and destruction.
No tolerance for destructive mobs
During a ceremony Monday at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, DeSantis signed into law HB 1, the “Combatting Public Disorder Act,” which both protects law enforcement and law-abiding citizens while taking an unmistakable stance against rioting, mob violence, and other forms of destructive civil unrest.
“In Florida, we are taking an unapologetic stand for the rule of law and public safety. We are holding those who incite violence in our communities accountable, supporting our law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and protecting Floridians from the chaos of mob violence,” DeSantis said. “We’re also putting an end to the bullying and intimidation tactics of the radical left by criminalizing doxing and requiring restitution for damaging memorials and monuments by rioters.”
“If you look at the breadth of this particular piece of legislation, it is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,” DeSantis said, according to Fox News. “There’s just nothing even close.”
“We’re not going to end up like Portland”
The governor explained that the new law would prevent local jurisdictions in the state from moving forward with the “insane theory” of defunding police departments and would allow for civil liability lawsuits against local governments that issue “stand down” orders to the police in the face of unrest, violence and destruction.
Fox noted that the law prohibits the mob tactic of blocking roads and provides civil legal immunity to innocent motorists who drive through such disruptive and threatening human blockades. The new law also protects all monuments in the state from being toppled or defaced with increased penalties and created a new crime of “mob intimidation” to punish groups that harass and threaten innocent civilians in public spaces.
Perhaps the most important provision of the law, at least in the view of DeSantis, is the increased penalties and mandatory jail time for committing acts of violence within an unlawful assembly, particularly against law enforcement officials, by specifying that arrested individuals are prohibited from being released on bail until after they have been arraigned by a judge.
“We’re going to hold you accountable and we’re not going to end up like Portland, [Oregon] where this is just a daily occurrence, where these people are doing this — they get arrested, they have their mug shot taken, and then they get put right back on the street to do it again,” DeSantis said.
The left cries foul
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Democrats and civil rights groups in Florida were outraged in opposition to the bill, which they insisted was unconstitutional and an infringement of the First Amendment-protected rights of free speech and freedom of assembly — even though the law specifically allows for and protects lawful assemblies and peaceful protests.
“The problem with this bill is that the language is so overbroad and vague … that it captures anybody who is peacefully protesting at a protest that turns violent through no fault of their own,” Kara Gross, legislative director at ACLU Florida, told the Sentinel. “Those individuals who do not engage in any violent conduct under this bill can be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony and face up to five years in prison and loss of voting rights. The whole point of this is to instill fear in Floridians.”