A Florida judge has ruled Florida’s new “anti-riot” law headed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis “vague and overbroad” and has blocked DeSantis’ effort to target peaceful protestors.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee temporarily blocked enforcement of the bill DeSantis signed into law in April.
“If this court does not enjoin the statute’s enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians,” Walker wrote in his 90-page decision. “It, unfortunately, takes only a handful of bad actors to transform a peaceful protest into a violent public disturbance.”
The law, also known as HB1, means harsher penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. HB1 also allows authorities to detain protesters until their first court appearance.
The bill makes it a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to damage or demolish a memorial, flag, structure or other objects that memorialize historical people or events.
The judge agreed that while the bill would punish a small minority of badly behaving protestors — it would also unfairly penalize peaceful demonstrators.
“The Governor has conflated a community celebration of a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery with a protest,” Walker wrote. “It should go without saying that a public gathering of Black people celebrating ‘Black joy’ and release from bondage does not automatically equate to a protest—or something that the Governor apparently implies should be chilled by the new riot law if Plaintiff Chainless Change’s claimed injury is to be believed.”
The bill was introduced and signed into law as a response to the demonstrations held around the country following last year’s killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd.
Taryn Fenske, communication director for DeSantis, said the administration “vehemently disagrees” with Walker’s decision per Politico. Fenske added, “There is a difference between a peaceful protest and a riot, and Floridians do not want to see the mayhem and violence associated with riots in their communities,”