The insurrection in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday is further proof that the United States is a nation of “two Americas” in which Black citizens have long lived in fear, a leading legislative Democrat said Monday.
“Every day I wake up and I feel unsafe living in two Americas. We are fearful every day for all of our constituents, especially communities of color,” said Florida Rep. Bobby DuBose, co-chair of the Florida House Democratic caucus.
DuBose, of Broward County, and other House Democrats joined with Senate Democrats in a press conference excoriating Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-mob” legislation, unveiled in the fall following Black Lives Matter demonstrations and reintroduced this week as a bill to be considered during the coming legislative session.
“This bill would be absolutely deadly to our communities,” said DuBose, who is Black. “This terrifies me. If you haven’t lived it, you don’t understand the constant fear.”
Rep. Evan Jenne, also of Broward, who is white and co-chairs the caucus with DuBose, said the measure proposed by DeSantis in September and filed this week by a pair of House and Senate Republicans would “muzzle” demands for better policing.
“This is a muzzle to be placed over a very specific community so that it is more difficult and more terrifying for them to raise their voices up,” Jenne said.
DeSantis said on Thursday, one day after thousands of Trump supporters invaded and trashed the Capitol and threatened lawmakers, staff, news gatherers, and police guarding the building, that the episode highlighted the need for his proposal.
The mob delayed Congress as it finalized the presidential election win of Joe Biden, forcing occupants to flee for shelter and leaving five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
“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 at the time. “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.”
Thurston and others said Monday the bill sponsors clearly intended to file HB 1 and SB 484 on DeSantis’ behalf before there was an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They cited House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ pledge back in November to fast-track its passage.
Jenne said DeSantis’ bill is not a response to the right-wing riot; it is a response to Black Lives Matter protests, peaceful or otherwise.
“Please do not convolute those issues. They are wildly different,” Jenne said, adding that for this bill to be DeSantis’ response to calls for policing reform following the homicide of George Floyd by a police officer and police shootings of unarmed Black people is “out of touch with humanity.”
“The lack of empathy is astounding,” Jenne said.
Sen. Perry Thurston argued that DeSantis unveiled the legislation in September in the heat of the presidential campaign because President Donald Trump, who supported the use of force against Black Lives Matter demonstrators over the summer, wanted him to.
“Gov. DeSantis, an acolyte of Trump, was only too happy to oblige. There was a show of allegiance and a show of force,” Thurston said.
He said it is telling that DeSantis’ first legislative proposal was this one, rather than bills to address widespread unemployment, evictions, and utility shutoffs amid record-breaking numbers of daily COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando said of DeSantis’ bill, “This is about power and this is about race.”
Sen. Bobby Powell of Palm Beach County, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Democrats will roll out a package of legislation to reform policing in Florida, to protect citizens against police brutality, as has been endorsed by federal law-enforcement authorities as high as the U.S. Department of Justice.
DeSantis’ plan — in answer to calls this summer to “defund” the police — would forbid local governments from redirecting funds from conventional law enforcement to intervention programs believed to reduce criminal behavior without use of violence. It includes no provisions aimed at reducing the use of deadly force by police.
The Legislature, holding pre-session committee hearings this week, convenes in regular session on March 2. Both chambers and the governor’s office are controlled by Republicans.
DeSantis’ anti-mob legislation would elevate criminal penalties for being associated with a demonstration deemed to have become “disorderly,” for damaging an historical monument, and for vandalism and looting, all of which are illegal already. It also would create a legal defense for motorists who strike and even kill a protester in a public roadway.
Broward County Sen. Gary Farmer, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said DeSantis’ loyalty to Trump, especially after the deadly riot in the nation’s Capitol, and his support along with Attorney General Ashley Moody for challenging the outcome of the election, is wrong.
“It is deeply troubling and disconcerting,” Farmer said. “To see two of our constitutionally elected officers promote those theories, and to see the Republican Attorneys General Association actually send out robocalls encouraging people to attend this rally last week, these are very troubling acts and very troubling statements by Republican leadership in our Cabinet. We’re talking about Cabinet-level officials here.
“I would hope the governor and the attorney general would reverse course, acknowledge what every state has acknowledged … that President-Elect Biden won this election,” Farmer continued. “It’s time to stop this divisive rhetoric that is encouraging and fomenting people like we saw last week in the Capitol to do the things they are doing. They are being misled into believing this election was stolen. They were chanting, ‘Stop the Steal.’ Nothing was stolen.”
Farmer wrote to Moody on Friday, calling on her to investigate the role that Trump, a Florida resident, played in the riot.
DeSantis and Moody backed Trump in challenging the integrity of the presidential election. While Trump without success filed lawsuit after lawsuit around the country to overturn certified election results, DeSantis urged legislators in battleground states to ignore the voting majorities that chose Biden and instead direct their state’s electoral ballots to Trump.
“Given the severity of Donald Trump’s criminal actions, and the grave threat that they posed to the existence of our nation’s government and its adherence to the Constitution, you are compelled both by your oath and commitment to the people of Florida to fully investigate the potential criminal actions laid out above,” Farmer wrote to Moody.