ACLU condemns FL ‘anti-mob’ legislation as cruel, timely stunt to advance governor’s agenda

Trump supporters forced their way into the U.S. Senate Chamber on Jan 6, 2021. Lawmakers in session ran for their lives. Five people died as a result of the insurrection. Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida says the filing of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-mob legislation following Wednesday’s assault on the U.S. Capitol is “a cruel political stunt” exploiting the national tragedy to further his anti-protests agenda.

“We are not fooled,” wrote Micah Kubic, executive director of ACLU Florida, in answer to Phoenix questions. “The single intent of this bill is to protect white supremacy by silencing and criminalizing Black protesters and allies who exercise their First Amendment rights in the pursuit of racial justice.”

DeSantis announced the filing of his legislation Thursday, saying, “It doesn’t matter what banner you’re flying under. … 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.”

Kubic stressed that DeSantis first proposed that legislation in the fall following nationwide Black Lives Matter protests — some of which became violent, while most did not — against the 2020 killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls endorsed the proposal in his first speech to the House, pledging to fast-track its passage and stressing its ban on any defunding of law-enforcement agencies.

“We’re old enough to remember this bill was proposed as a direct political response to last year’s nationwide protests calling for an end to racialized violence and police brutality that disparately harms Black people,” Kubic wrote.

“This is not an attempt to make our communities safer. This proposed legislation by DeSantis was nothing more than a campaign political stunt. Now, it is being disguised as a response to the failed violent coup at the U.S. Capitol,” Kubic continued.

He argues that law enforcement agencies have “all the tools they need” to protect people and property when demonstrations become riots, as happened on Capitol Hill.

Tens of thousands of Trump supporters, most of them white, easily broke into and vandalized the nation’s Capitol Wednesday with little resistance from Capitol Police, who had declined to reinforce their ranks ahead of an inflammatory rally led by President Trump himself.

National media reported that the FBI and National Guard offered in advance to bolster the police presence, suspecting the Trump rally could pose a security threat.

It did, forcing members of Congress, who were finalizing election results in which Trump was defeated, to run for their lives. The insurrection left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer identified Friday as Brian Sicknick.

Since the riot, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger have announced their resignations.

No riots were reported in Florida during the summer, when Black Lives Matter protests were held around the state.

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus expressed outrage Thursday to hear of DeSantis and other Republican leaders “repackaging” the governor’s legislation in light of the deadly attack on the Capitol.

“Make no mistake, the repackaging of these bills as a ‘response to the violent mobs’ [Wednesday] 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,” said Caucus Chairman Bobby Powell, Democratic state senator for Palm Beach County.

“The problem lies in how [police] have been selectively choosing to use these tools,” Kubic argued. “This bill is designed to embolden the disparate police treatment we have seen over and over again directed towards Black and brown people who are exercising their constitutional right to protest. This bill will silence dissent and push the relentless disparities of our state’s broken justice system to new extremes.”

DeSantis’ legislation, filed this week by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, a Miami-Dade Republican, and Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, would broaden and intensify penalties for being involved in a demonstration deemed disorderly. It also would forbid reductions in funding for law enforcement, further criminalize the damaging of historical monuments, and grant a legal shield to motorists who strike or even kill a demonstrator in a public roadway.

In November, U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz reported to then-Attorney General William Barr that states should address racial unrest by focusing on police reforms, not on criminalizing protests. Lawrence Keefe, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, published an opinion piece calling for more law-enforcement certification training in the safe use of force, de-escalation of conflict, and identifying officers likely to use excessive force.