Hale Morrissette, a north Florida organizer, traveled from Pensacola to the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, to join her group in opposing an anti-protest bill that has shaken Floridians who value the right to demonstrate.
“We have been at the House with this, now we are here at the Senate,” said Morrissette, who is Black and part of the Dream Defenders group that fight for police reforms and racial justice.
“I believe that we’ll be heard if we just have a few Republicans that can hear us out,” she said.
The House had already passed the bill, called HB 1, a top-priority initiative of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Allies call the legislation an “anti-mob” bill to protect police and property. Detractors say it is a heavy-handed crackdown on free speech and civil-rights protests.
Morrissette was displeased that state Sen. Bobby Powell’s amendment was withdrawn — it would have mandated in the legislation a study on the impact on minorities from an anti-protest bill.
“This study would have been a step in the right direction because it would have been the findings that we already know, which is that this bill is going to be a racial injustice. They already know what the outcome was going to be,” she said.
“They would have the findings that would say this is going to directly impact Black and brown people…I realize that there are some of these legislators that believe that they’re intentionally trying to protect us but the impact of it is going to hurt way more.”
Meanwhile, at least a hundred people including younger individuals gathered in Tallahassee at the civic center on a rainy day to attend the Senate committee meeting that was scheduled for more than eight hours.
The crowd expressed pushback on anti-protest legislation that came out of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last year, which fueled protests nationwide, including Florida. A trial against Derek Chauvin is ongoing now.
The Florida protests were considered peaceful, which is why critics say an anti-protest bill is considered unnecessary.
At the civic center, chairs were set up for social distancing, people had to fill out an information card to get their chance to speak and Senate staff called upon people to the podium to have their say.
They had traveled miles to get a chance to speak, but the testimony was limited.
“Our process for public testimony is a little bit different recognizing that there is so many people at the civic center…we’re going to try to keep the comments as brief as possible,” said State Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican representing parts of Lake and Polk counties.
Stargel, who is also the Appropriations Chair, said people could also simply waive in support or opposition. Many younger people offered passionate testimony in opposition to the bill.
Itohan Ighodaro, a Black woman, is against the measure and feels it will target minorities. The 31-year-old is a graduate of Florida A&M University and lives in Broward County.
“HB 1 is harmful legislation that will have a long-term devastating impact on marginalized communities,” she said in a text message to the Florida Phoenix. “The Florida Senate has the ability to prevent this dangerous bill from becoming law.”
“Peaceful protest has been and is still the organizing mechanism/cultural tool Black Americans have used to continue to fight for our freedom. This bill was pushed by a governor who did not bother to include a racial and ethnic impact study, even with prior knowledge of the demographic of Floridians who protest.”