The draft text of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first piece of proposed legislation since COVID-19 began to pummel Florida is finally circulating. The Defeat COVID-19 and Renew Florida Act? No — The Combatting Violence, Disorder, and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act.
DeSantis’ proposed legislation is his reaction to the protests this summer after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. In September, DeSantis, flanked by Florida sheriffs, announced that he would be proposing legislation to stop “professional agitators” from looting and protect our police officers. The state, of course, has plenty of power to do both already.
Instead, the bill, which hasn’t formally been filed yet, is about criminalizing protest and protecting those who would do harm to protesters. And the legislation is targeted particularly at Black protesters. Rather than look for ways to support these constituents — or any of his constituents — at a moment of great need, DeSantis’ first piece of proposed legislation since the pandemic began is designed only to add harm on top of harm.
Most of the bill’s specifics are mind-blowingly foolish — and cruelly unnecessary to boot. One provision in the draft bill, for example, would expand Florida’s stand your ground law, justifying the actions of individuals who shoot protesters acting in any way that causes the “interruption or impairment” of a business. So would a shop owner be justified in shooting a protester scribbling graffiti on a shop door?
DeSantis responded to protests that sought to protect Black lives by seeking to incarcerate more Black people and shield those who would do violence against Black protesters. The bill racks up criminal penalties for protesters and subtracts liability from those who would harm those protesters. This, at heart, is what the bill is intended to do — make Black Floridians more vulnerable, especially when they protest.
We need legislation that responds to COVID-19 and rebuilds our state’s economy. But DeSantis’ bill has nothing to do with the pandemic. It’s not legislation to support our struggling school system. Not to increase access to health care. Not to provide businesses with assistance, increase access to testing or establish a plan for future pandemic preparedness.
It is a bill that punishes protesters and protects those who do violence to protesters. And, although the governor has been careful to avoid saying as much, it’s a bill that seeks purposefully to harm our state’s Black community. This is a bill that has no business on our legislative agenda — least of all now.
By Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP Florida State Conference.
Read more here.