Authorities show once again that their loyalties align with hate groups, not those seeking justice. Christina Boneta, a Black mother, told The Washington Post she was detained, charged a $2,500 fine, and accused of breaking a seldom-enforced noise violation when she participated in Black Lives Matter rallies last summer in Florida. Counterprotesters, including the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group, screamed threats and profanity through bullhorns but were cited with no such charges, the Post reported. “We were harassed [by the counterprotesters],” Boneta told the newspaper. “We had a few guns brandished on us. … One guy even came up to me and flashed a White Power gesture in my face, but they didn’t get any noise violation. We are the ones who got the noise violations when, all summer long, we never threatened anybody, looted anything or burned anything.”
Although the Post reported that the fine and charges against Boneta and six other Black Lives Matter protesters were dropped last month, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing legislation on "disruptive protests" that could lead to more arrests and more accusations of racial profiling. The proposed legislation could put protesters in jail for up to 15 years if police determine at least nine people took part in a riot. And the scary part is Florida isn’t even included in a list of 15 states that have since November 2016 enacted legislation to peel back the rights of protesters and target them with harsher legal penalties.
Those states are Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to a tracker from the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. At least 28 states considered passing harsher protest laws last year alone, the tracker showed.
DeSantis and other Florida Republicans say their measure is a response to the riot on January 6 at the U.S. Capitol, but it is really a rebranded version of a failed bill the governor announced in September in response to protests calling for justice after the death of George Floyd. He was unarmed when a since-fired white Minneapolis police officer was shown in viral video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. The tragedy sparked protests throughout the nation.
DeSantis targeted those protesters with the Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act. It threatened to not only hand down more severe penalties for protesting but also allow people to be detained without bond and strip state funding from counties that reallocate police budgets, a central goal of the defund the police movement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said in a news release.
The attempted legislation would have allowed the very terrorists GOP legislators now claim to want to stop to instead escape liability for injuring or killing demonstrators. Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, called the governor’s proposal “undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values.”
Kubic similarly condemned DeSantis’ latest attempt at silencing Black Lives Matter protesters:
“Let us speak plainly about what this bill is and what it is not. It is not a measure intended to increase public safety. Law enforcement already has all the tools they need at their disposal to protect public safety and prevent violence and property damage. It is also not intended to address any public need. Protests across the state of Florida have largely been peaceful.
“The sole 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. It is a political stunt that 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.
“By increasing the punishment for pulling down a confederate flag and other shrines to white supremacy by 5 to 15 years, and granting violent counter-protestors an escape from civil liability for injuring or killing a protester-- this bill accomplishes nothing but clearly harkens on Florida’s Jim Crow past.
"It is shameful that some legislators are entertaining this bill, instead of prioritizing COVID relief, healthcare, unemployment, and our housing and eviction crisis. Literally, the last thing Floridians need is legislation that criminalizes peaceful protests.”
The state’s history is riddled with examples of racial profiling and police brutality harming Black and brown people. “Under this bill, peaceful protesters could be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony for ‘committing a riot’ even if they did not engage in any disorderly and violent conduct,” the ACLU of Florida said. “It would also prohibit local governments from determining how to allocate funding for police reform to address critical needs in their local communities and seek to protect counter-protesters from civil liability if they injure or kill a protester.”
A police officer was beaten to death and legislators forced to hide in their offices when former President Donald Trump incited a violent mob to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s election win. “While as Americans we all have a right to peacefully assemble, violence or rioting of any kind is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in a news release about the proposed legislation. “In 2020, I proposed legislation to stop violent assemblies, combat rioting and protect law enforcement. In light of today’s events at our United States Capitol, we have no time to waste to uphold public safety.”
Florida state Sen. Joe Gruters made similar statements in the Post. “What we saw in Washington D.C., and what we are seeing in Oregon and Washington, we don’t want to see here in Florida,” he said. “I don’t care if you are the Proud Boys or antifa. If you are a thug, you are going to jail.” If that were true, DeSantis and several other Florida legislators would have their paths to prison paved.
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