DeSantis takes aim at protesters

Gov. DeSantis speaking at Tuesday’s news conference. Photo courtesy

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this week called on lawmakers to pass his anti-protest legislation as soon as November.

DeSantis has asked fellow Republican legislative leaders to approve a bill that will increase the penalties on protesters who engage in violence or block roadways. He said he would like to see his proposal become law before the legislative session next year.

DeSantis made the announcement during a press conference at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s going to be a ton of bricks raining down on you” in response to protesters who are said to be breaking the law, DeSantis told reporters.

If this proposal becomes law,  anyone who is found guilty of throwing objects at the police or anyone in law enforcement,protesters can face a maximum jail sentence of up to six months. Protesters may also face felony penalties for those who block roads and topple monuments or harass people.

Like many states, Florida has recently experienced weeks of protest in regard to police brutality and the deaths of many African Americans.

Earlier this month Tallahassee Police Department officers and other law enforcement personnel showed up in riot gear and with trained canines as a small protest got underway at the Capitol. It resulted in more than a dozen arrests, and prompted backlash during a recent City Commission meeting.

Several Democratic members of the state Legislature were quick to respond to DeSantis’ proposal, saying they are ready to fight “tooth and nail” against the bill, calling it  “unconstitutional” and “outrageous.”

The executive director of the progressive group Organize Florida, Stephanie Porta, called DeSantis’ proposal “an election stunt focused on tamping down current protests that are being planned around the Supreme Court.”

DeSantis’ proposal has caught the attention of local students and activists. FAMU student Christopher Miller says the proposed legislation could never stand up to a court challenge.

“I believe that if they were to actually go through with this it will be taking away our First Amendment right of freedom of speech. We have the right to protest and express the way we feel,” Miller said.

With the new law anyone arrested during a protest would not be eligible for bail before their initial court hearing, and anyone who is from outside of Florida and convicted will receive extra penalties. DeSantis said that if the proposal is not taken up in a special session this year, it will be filed for the state’s next legislative session beginning in March.