Following the bill’s approval in the Florida House of Representatives, HB 1/SB 484 has gained attention within Floridian activist and political circles. After a summer of protests that demanded racial equality, the bill seeks to “combat public disorder” by taking a harsh stance on those who incite riots at protests. Despite the orderly front of the bill, many Floridians have expressed their distrust and disappointment in the bill.
What exactly is this bill?
Through the bill, those who protest violently can be punished by a felony, which would take away the rights to vote of those protestors. “Aggravated rioting” is created through HB1, which can be defined as a protest with more than nine people blocking a road or more than $5,000 of damage to property. Things such as pulling down a statue or public monument could be punishable by 15 years in prison. Protestors arrested during these riots would be denied bail; as well, they would be denied protection from those who seek to harm them. On a bigger scale, it could impact the movement to defund police across the state. The bill would allow the state to override any municipality that decreases police budgets.
Why is this bad?
Many of the issues here lie in the fact that protestors often get arrested, whether they are violent or not. The language in the bill does not define a specific look at what is considered violent and disorderly. Therefore it would be up to the policemen to enforce this at their leisure. This bill would essentially further limit Floridian residents’ rights to protest and express their First Amendment rights. By limiting the type of acceptable protests, they are limiting protestors’ voices and essentially targeting those that demand equality. Many organizers, such as Dream Defenders, March for Our Lives, and United We Dream, believe that the bill will be enacted disproportionately to target protestors of color. This bill was initially crafted in September 2020, which was still in the midst of continuous protests and marches for justice. It is no surprise that the bill seeks to penalize those that do not keep funding police budgets and departments. Not only is this going to affect Floridians, but if the law passes, other states could adopt similar laws to arrest protestors and target BIPOC community efforts. Therefore, many believe the bill restricts protesters’ freedom and calls for it not to pass the senate.
What happens now?
Since the bill passed the Florida House, it is awaiting its hearing in the Florida Senate, after which, if passed, it will be signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. Many organizers are still not giving up hope that the bill can be struck down and call on fellow community members to oppose the bill. If you’d like to support organizers’ rights, you can contact your state senators and express your lack of support for the bill. There are also calls to the United Nations from organizations such as Community Justice Project and Law for Black Lives to denounce the bill. Alongside that, you can email corporations that were committed to doing better for racial equality to support the people of Florida. While the future looks unpromising, there are still things that can be done today to stop the censorship of Floridians first amendment rights.