Florida lawmakers have filed legislation to fend off violent protests after a right-wing mob carrying “Trump” banners stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that “strong views” do not justify violence.
“You can have strong views, you can be disappointed in an election, you can be disappointed in whatever, but you can’t just go in and ransack public places like that,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Bradenton.
“So we’re going to make sure folks who do that in Florida, if they do that, that they’re going to face very quick penalties.”
DeSantis drafted a version of the legislation in the fall following racial unrest sparked by multiple fatal shootings of unarmed black people by police. Until this week, it did not have legislative sponsors.
“I think what you saw yesterday [Wednesday in Washington, D.C.] was a good example of taking a rally and having certain views, and then going in to storm the Capitol like was done is totally unacceptable and those folks need to be held accountable,” DeSantis said.
“And it doesn’t matter what banner you’re flying under. The violence is wrong. The rioting and the disorder is wrong. We’re not going to tolerate it in Florida. I hope maybe now we’ll get even more support for my legislation because it’s something that needs to be done.”
Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus expressed outrage at the comparison of Black Lives Matter protests to the armed insurrection in Washington.
“Any attempt to imply that this hateful and discriminatory legislation would be justly applied to the rioters in Washington, D.C., is absurd,” caucus chairman Bobby Powell, a state senator from Palm Beach County, said in a witten statement.
“Make no mistake, the repackaging of these bills as a ‘response to the violent mobs’ of yesterday is a smoke screen for control measures aimed solely at peaceful protesters in Florida who sought nothing more than the basic civil rights and human dignity guaranteed to all people under the Constitution,” he said.
“These bills give safe harbor to deep prejudices held by people intent on retaining power, and diminishing the value of human life on the basis of skin color alone.”
Key provisions of the legislation would prevent any defunding of law enforcement agencies, broadly expand penalties against people affiliated with a protest that becomes “disorderly,” further criminalize the damaging of historical monuments, and provide a legal defense for motorists who “accidentally” run over a protester obstructing a public roadway.
Not included is language from a DeSantis draft that would have expanded Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law to allow a person to shoot and kill anyone presumed to be engaged in looting or vandalism in connection with a disorderly protest. Critics denounced that provision, saying it would embolden vigilantes to shoot and kill demonstrators in the guise of protecting life and property.
“Stand Your Ground” drew international attention when it was used to condone the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012 while Martin walked along a public sidewalk in Sanford. Zimmerman was acquitted of wrongdoing, claiming he killed Martin in self-defense in a struggle that ensued after Zimmerman approached the teen with a gun.
Bill sponsors Fernandez-Barquin and Burgess did not remark on that aspect of DeSantis’ draft legislation, which is omitted from their versions. They focused on the mayhem Wednesday in the nation’s capital, which sent elected leaders and staff running for their lives, and leaving four people dead.
“It is never acceptable for a civil society to behave in this way, and this bill will ensure that it is unwelcome in Florida. It does not matter if you are Republican or Democrat, we are a society of laws, and all must follow the law,” Fernandez-Barquin said in a written statement.
“This legislation makes it clear that here in Florida criminals who seek to thwart peaceful protests by willfully inciting violence, attacking law enforcement and destroying public or private property will be held accountable,” wrote Burgess.
The Legislature convenes for pre-session committee hearings next week. Regular session begins March 2.
Note: This story has been updated to include comments from state Sen. Powell.