Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new bill into law Monday that aims to crack down on violent protests in the state.
DeSantis signed the so-called "anti-riot" bill during a news conference in Polk County.
"It is the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country," he said.
The governor began campaigning for the measure last year in response to protests over police violence against Black Americans. The nationwide protests first began after George Floyd's in-custody death on May 25.
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And DeSantis signed the new bill into law as the country awaits a verdict in the murder trial of Floyd's accused killer, former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin.
DeSantis spoke of the trial at the signing on Monday.
“I don't know what's going to happen, but I can tell you that case was bungled by the attorney general there in Minnesota. They didn't handle it properly, so there may be some people disappointed,” he said.
Under the law, penalties will be enhanced for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. It allows authorities to hold arrested protesters until a first court appearance. And it establishes new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
It also strips local governments of civil liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement’s efforts to respond to a violent protest and add language to state law that could force local governments to justify a reduction in law enforcement budgets.
DeSantis on Monday called efforts to defund police "an insane theory."
"It's not going to be allowed to ever carry the day in the state of Florida," the governor said.
The law will also make it a second-degree felony to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events. That would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Opponents of the bill said it was racist and saw it as an attempt to squash the voices of groups like Black Lives Matter.
“Not only is this racist at its core, but it's also a reaction to what occurred over the summer after the death of George Floyd,” said Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones.
He also noted that the governor made mention of the Chauvin trial with the expectation that there could be protests if Chauvin is acquitted.
“So he alluded to the verdict being not in the favor of justice, and so he says ‘We want to be prepared,’” Jones said. “Be prepared for what? Not prepared for the white supremacists who stormed the Capitol, but he wants to be prepared for the demonstrations that will take place around this country if Derrick Chauvin is acquitted."
The American Civil Liberties Union said the new law would give police broad discretion over what constitutes a demonstration and a riot.
“The bill was purposely 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,” said Micah Kubic, the executive director of ACLU of Florida.