MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With the stroke of a pen, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a controversial law and order bill into law which aimed at cracking down on unruly and violent protests.
DeSantis announced the legislation last September after protests across the nation in the aftermath of the May death of George Floyd, a 36-year-old Black man who died after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for at least eight minutes.
“We saw really unprecedented disorder and rioting throughout the summer of 2020 and said that’s not going to happen here in the state of Florida. We wanted to make sure that we could protect the people of our great state, people’s businesses and property, against any type of mob activity and violent assemblies,” said DeSantis before signing the legislation at a ceremony in Winter Haven.
The measure, “Combating Public Disorder,” creates new liability for “mob intimidation” and increases penalties for riot-related violence and looting.
“I think it’s remarkable if you look at the breadth of this piece of legislation, it is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country. There’s just nothing even close,” said DeSantis.
DeSantis and other Republicans say the measures were needed to crack down on violent protests. Democrats and civil rights groups, however, countered that it infringes on First Amendment rights and will disproportionately lead to crackdowns on Black protesters.
The measure also prevents local governments from defunding law enforcement.
“We will be able to stop it at the state level. And if you look at some of the places that have done this they have already seen crime go up, even just diverting some of the funding to this. It’s an insane theory and it’s not going to ever be allowed to carry the day in the state of Florida and this bill gives us the tools to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said DeSantis.
The governor said the legislation also holds local government accountable.
“As we saw last summer, some of the local governments were actually telling, not necessarily in Florida but across the country, basically telling these folks to stand down, telling the police to stand down while cities burned, while businesses were burned, while people were being harmed. That’s a dereliction of duty. Our bill says, that I’ll sign into law, if you are derelict in your duty as a local government, if you tell law enforcement to stand down, then you’re responsible for the damage that ensued. If someone has been harmed or their property destroyed, then they can sue you for compensation,” said DeSantis.
There are also penalties for people who take over roads or highways.
“Just think about it. You’re driving home from work and all of a sudden you have people out there shutting down a highway. We worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen in Florida. When they start to do that there needs to be swift penalties, that’s something that just cannot happen,” said DeSantis.
The legislation also protects monuments and creates a defense for people who injure or kill violent protesters.
DeSantis said the new law will help Florida not turn out like Portland where violent riots seem to be a daily occurrence.