Florida has a strict new law against protests, signed by Gov. DeSantis in April. Via Rolling Stone:
The Florida law gives police broad new powers to impose collective punishment on those engaged in protest. First, it lowers the threshold of a “riot” to include as few as three people engaging in “violent and disorderly conduct.” This could subject anyone at an otherwise peaceful event where such a disturbance occurs to third-degree felony charges, punishable by up to five years in prison and the loss of the right to vote. The bill also creates a new second-degree felony of “aggravated rioting” for any large group action that, among other not-clearly-harmful and vaguely-described impacts, “endangers the safe movement of a vehicle traveling on a public street, highway, or road.” Further, the law creates a new, hazy, misdemeanor charge of “mob intimidation” that requires anyone so charged to be held until their first bail hearing — effectively giving cops carte blanche to lock up protesters overnight.
While broadly criminalizing protest, the bill also shields Floridians from civil liability if they happen to injure or kill a protester involved in a demonstration the authorities label a “riot.” According to testimony by the state ACLU: “A white supremacist who maliciously drove his car into protesters… like the one in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, would be able to assert an affirmative defense under this bill.” The new law in Florida — a former Confederate state with dozens of public memorials to those who fought to preserve slavery — also heightens punishment for protesters who damage or deface public monuments or flags, subjecting them to felony charges and forcing them to pay restitution for any damages.
Somehow I don’t think they’re going to enforce the law against the hundreds of people who were blocking the Palmetto Expressway here in Miami, a main north-sound artery, during rush hour.
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A small group of protesters asking President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis to help protect Cuban protesters marched to block traffic on the Palmetto Expressway on a rainy Tuesday in Miami-Dade County.
They lined up on the southbound and northbound lanes of the expressway from Coral Way to Flagler Street. Those who have relatives on the island said they fear the Cuban government’s violent crackdown on dissent.
One of their chants in Spanish: “Estados Unidos, acaba el comunismo!” It’s a rhymed request to the Biden administration to put an end to communism.
As of 6 p.m., rush hour traffic was still at a standstill. Miami-Dade Police Department officers and Florida Highway Patrol troopers asked drivers to avoid the expressway and use the Florida Turnpike instead.
Some of the protesters held umbrellas, and white, red, and blue Cuban and U.S. flags. Some used signs and T-shirts to display the “Patria Y Vida,” or “Homeland and Life,” motto of the protests across Cuba Sunday.
The phrase is meant to antagonize the late Fidel Castro’s rallying cry of “Socialism or Death” and the late Che Guevara’s “Homeland or Death” speech at the United Nations in the 1960s.
The irony is worth noting. From the Miami Herald editorial page:
Gov. DeSantis should have just laid it on the line when a reporter asked about the hundreds upon hundreds of Cuban-American demonstrators and their supporters who shut down a portion of the Palmetto Expressway in Miami-Dade County.
Instead, he deflected, talking about protesters in Cuba.
Implicit in the question, however, was whether the governor’s vaunted anti-riot law — created in the wake of George Floyd demonstrations — would apply in the case of the demonstrators blocking streets and an expressway in Miami-Dade.
Their cause is righteous, of course — bringing down Cuba’s oppressive and regressive regime.
Florida’s misbegotten anti-riot law leaves even peaceful demonstrators subject to being arrested if a protest is arbitrarily deemed a “riot.” The law explicitly makes blocking a highway a felony offense. Worse, it gives civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters who are blocking a road — basically, encouraging haters to do just that.
Here’s what the governor said when he signed the blatantly un-American bill into law: “Just think about it, you’re driving home from work and, all of a sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway, and we worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen in Florida.”
But it did happen in Florida, Gov. DeSantis. Demonstrators shut down State Road 826 in both directions Tuesday in solidarity with their counterparts in Cuba. Police obliged and redirected traffic. Mercifully, no one roared through the crowd in a vehicle.
Everything was as it should be in a country that has a high tolerance for free expression. But, unfortunately, for the governor, the reporter’s question trapped him in the hypocrisy of his law, likely to be arbitrarily enforced.
Honestly, we would have been more impressed if he had just responded: “Nah, the Miami-Dade demonstrators seeking human rights in Cuba have nothing to fear from my anti-riot law. We created it to subdue Black folks seeking human rights in the United States.”
One person’s riot is another’s righteous protest. It all depends on whose voter bloc you’re sucking up to.