Gov. DeSantis mum on George Floyd verdict until he went on Fox News late Tuesday evening

Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared on Fox News on April 20, 2021. Source: Screenshot/Fox News

In the hours following the guilty verdicts in the trial against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis kept his reaction to himself, offering no comments or press statements about the George Floyd murder case that captivated the world.

DeSantis finally had a say when he went on Fox News at 10 p.m. Tuesday. It was his second appearance on the cable channel — where the Republican governor has been promoting his conservative agenda aggressively ahead of his reelection campaign next year and a possible presidential run in 2024 — in two days.

DeSantis stopped short during the appearance of suggesting that fear of violent protest swayed the Derek Chauvin jury but warned that “would be antithetical to the rule of law.”

A Minnesota jury found Chauvin guilty Tuesday of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, which kick-started nationwide protests against police violence last summer.

“Ingraham Angle” host Laura Ingraham played a clip of a New York protester who argued that “it was a mixture of violence and nonviolent protest that yielded this response,” meaning the verdict.

DeSantis replied:

“If that’s what a lot of people think — I don’t know what happened with that verdict, but if that’s something that can potentially happen, where you basically have justice meted out because the jury is scared of what a mob may do — and, again, I’m not saying that’s what happened here, but that speaker seemed to suggest that that had an impact — that’s completely antithetical to the rule of law,” he said.

He denied accusations that HB 1, the legislative crackdown on street protests that he signed into law on Monday, violates protesters’ First Amendment rights.

“Not at all. I mean, if you’re throwing a brick at a law enforcement officer’s head, which many people were doing throughout this summer, that has nothing to do with the First Amendment. If you break into a store and damage people’s property or steal people’s property, that doesn’t have anything to do with the First Amendment. If you have a mob of people descend on an innocent civilian and intimidate and harass them, it doesn’t have anything to do with the First Amendment,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis highlighted language preventing local governments from “defunding” the police — meaning diverting resources to alternative means of dealing with mental health and social problems — allowing individuals to sue officials deemed to have insufficiently policed demonstrations, and penalizing “mob intimidation.”

“And look, if you oppose the piece of legislation, that means you want local governments to be able to defund police; you want local governments to have no consequence if they allow people to be harmed and not have police there; and it means you don’t want strong penalties for people who are engaging in violent activities.”

Ingraham asked the governor what he thought of the “big lie” that “America, at its core, is a racist nation.”

“It’s an attempt to delegitimize all the institutions in our country, starting with the Constitution. They denigrate the Founding Fathers, they denigrate everybody in society now. I think it’s very harmful,” DeSantis said.

Wednesday, state Sen. Shevrin Jones issued a statement about DeSantis’ comments on Fox Tuesday evening.

“Quite frankly it’s pathetic that Governor DeSantis spends his time doubling down on his disingenuous attack on basic civil rights and human dignity on Fox News,” stated Jones, who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

“Peaceful protest is an outlet for change in this country, and yesterday’s verdict in the Chauvin murder trial is an important step towards accountability and action when it comes to transforming public safety so that every American, regardless of skin color, can not just survive, but thrive.”

“The last thing Floridians need is more racist dog whistles, yet the Governor has shown time and again that he would rather fan the flames of division with dangerous rhetoric than prioritize the real issues Floridians care about: getting people back to work, helping small businesses keep their doors open, and keeping ALL communities healthy and safe, so everyone can return to some form of normal post-pandemic. There’s no denying that we have a long way to go, and I will always speak out and up for the people.”

Update: Gary Farmer, leader of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate, issued a lengthy written statement criticizing the governor’s remarks. We quote it in part:

“Only a man who has never known prejudice, never known unequal treatment or rejection, never had his rights restricted or denied, or never been compelled to stand up and speak out against grave injustices, would attack this jury’s verdict of guilt in the killing of George Floyd,” Farmer said.

“From his comfortable government perch, Gov. DeSantis actually claimed that the convictions stemmed from fear of the mob, not respect for the rule of law, and that Florida is now far better protected against such ‘mobs’ thanks to his anti-protest legislation,” he continued.

“No one who fought against that legislation is advocating for violence. To the contrary, Florida’s statutes were replete with criminal sanctions to punish those who would do harm or cause damage in the name of protest, well before Gov. DeSantis hatched his anti-protest bill. But this new law sweeps up everyone in its path, even those caught up in a melee through no fault of their own. It is an affront to the First Amendment rights of every citizen in this state, and it is meant solely to clamp down on the voices raised to fight unequal justice.”

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.