Update: The Florida Senate has passed the anti-riot bill SB 484 Thursday, and it is now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis to be signed. WINK News’ original story follows.
Florida is one step closer to a crackdown on violent protests.
The Florida Senate is moving fast to pass an anti-riot bill, which includes a long list of harsher penalties for protesters. This legislation was introduced shortly after a summer of protests in 2020.
While we saw mostly peaceful demonstrations in Southwest Florida, other city marches in the state turned into riots, with hundreds of demonstrators arrested.
The lawmakers behind the bill want to keep future protests peaceful before they turn violent, but others say the bill limits free speech and the right to protest.
Protests are increasing again after young, Black man Daunte Wright was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer.
“The intent was to ensure that the rioting and damage to property and persons, the attacks on law enforcement that we are seeing, even now as we speak, around the nation, that Florida was protected from that,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said.
The officer who shot Wright thought her taser was in her hand, but it was her gun.
“This is a time where our leaders, our state leaders, our nation’s leaders should be trying to heal the divide and get to the bottom of what’s causing such unrest,” community advocate Chantel Rhodes said.
Under the bill, people who drive through protestors blocking a road would get civil immunity. Anyone arrested for rioting automatically must go to jail until they go before a judge. Assaulting an officer during a protest would mean a mandatory six months in jail.
“I do think that it will have a chilling effect on peaceful protest, Rhodes said.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk believes law enforcement agencies in the state are already well equipped.
“There is enough law in place today for us to execute and perform our duties and responsibilities,” Rambosk said. “So I’m not sure how much more of an impact it would have.”
The bill would also stop local governments from defunding the police. If they try, the governor or state attorney can step in.
“I don’t think we would ever experience that here in Collier County, Rambosk said.
As people prepare to march for justice for Daunte Wright in Southwest Florida, rally organizer Javier Teuntor said, “The people that really want change are not the ones throwing rocks at windows, are not the ones trying to fight police officers. We are just trying to be heard.”
The bill also includes a penalty for mob intimidation. That’s when three or more people try to force or threaten someone into changing their viewpoint.