New anti-riot law has local activists on edge
Updated: May 11, 2021
On April 19, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that makes it illegal for protesters to riot, loot, burn or destroy buildings and property during or following a protest.
DeSantis called it, “The strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement bill in the country.”
The legislation was passed by the Florida Senate in April and in the House in January.
On April 15, Equal Ground, a Florida voter education organization, held a State of the Legislature Zoom event to inform Volusia County residents on what legislation is in the works in Florida, including the anti-riot legislation.
The online event also educated people on who their state representatives and state senators are and how a bill becomes a law. Equal Ground leaders, including Genesis Robinson, talked about the anti-riot bill. Robinson is the Volusia County Coordinator for Equal Ground’s education arm.
“It cuts at the heart of the First Amendment. It takes away people’s right to protest and petition government. It opens up for folks to be arrested even if they are attending a peaceful protest,” said Robinson about the anti-protest law.
“It leaves a lot of discretion to law enforcement in more liberal places and larger cities and more progressive cities.”
Opposing new law
Democrats, civil rights organization and activists oppose the law. Daytona Beach/Volusia County NAACP President Cynthia Slater referred to a statement from the NAACP Florida State Conference.
“The bill is racist, discriminatory, unwise, unlawful and unjust,” said Florida NAACP State Conference President Adora Obi Nweze. The governor put his stamp on this discriminatory law filled with disenfranchisement aimed at Black and Brown Floridians.”
Local activists also weighed in on the law.
Shyriaka “Shy’’ Morris is president of the Southeast Volusia NAACP Chapter. She also led Black Lives Matter protests in New Smyrna Beach.
“We actually stopped doing protests back in November when this law was first proposed,” said Morris. “We didn’t want to get our people in trouble.”
Jennifer Howard leads Black Lives Matters protests in Ormond Beach with the group Ormond Neighbors United.
“The language of the law is too vague. It allows law enforcement to capture anybody who is peacefully protesting at a protest which turns violent through no fault of their own,” said Howard.
“The point of this is to instill fear in Floridians who want to exercise their right to peacefully assembly. What riots happened in Florida? It’s wasted legislation and taking a way of civil rights.”
Dyrell Johnson, also known as Rell Black, also has led protests in Daytona.
“This law is one of the worst tragedies,” he said. “For centuries, our government has enacted policies such as poll taxes, voter identification laws and now anti-protest laws to keep citizens of color silent and docile.”
Hopes for repeal
Morris says actual protesters don’t want to riot or loot.
“Those who rioted had nothing to do with the protests,” Morris said. “I think most of them were opportunists. Those who were there for the movement want to make change and are not there to loot and burn down buildings.”
The anti-riot law will be fought in hopes of being repealed. “We won’t sit silent on this issue and we won’t let this stop peaceful across the state of Florida,” stated Nweze with the NAACP.
Dyrell Johnson added, “My organization has been working with many groups since January to get this bill overturned.’’
Difficulties and restrictions
The anti-riot law also does the following:
Makes it difficult for local governments to defund law enforcement, allows local elected officials to challenge these budgets and gives the state more power to amend local budgets.
Allows local government to be sued if they fail to stop a riot.
Defines riot as public disturbance involving three or more people acting with common intent resulting in injury to others, damage to property or the imminent danger of injury or damage.
Enhances penalties for those who commit crimes during a riot.
Creates a new second-degree felony called “aggravated riot” which occurs when there are more than 25 participants.
Causes great bodily harm or more than $5,000 in property damage, uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon, or blocks roadways by force or threat of force.
Source: Daytona Times