Florida Democratic lawmakers, representatives and senators held a Zoom news conference on Monday to voice their objection to proposed legislation aimed at preventing and combatting riots and public disorder.
The group of lawmakers believe that House Bill 1/Senate Bill 484 is unnecessary and aimed squarely at Black people and people of color.
“This bill is overkill, designed to squash free speech and peaceful assemblies primarily by people of color,” said Sen. Perry Thurston.
The proposed law is designed to enhance penalties for people who commit crimes at protests, riots, etc.
Democratic lawmakers say this is all about the governor trying to stifle, silent Black Lives Matter protesters and the social justice movement.
“Make no doubt about it, this is a muzzle to be placed over a very specific community, so it is more difficult and more terrifying for them to raise their voices up,” said State Rep. Evan Jenne.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled a version of the legislation in September, after protests across the country over racial injustices and police violence against Black people.
The group also feels as if DeSantis is using the January 6 riots in Washington, D.C. as leverage to move forward with this law.
Democrats say there are no similarities between the BLM protests and the insurrection in D.C. – they’re two different matters.
“Ever since George Floyd...we were on the ground or right away,” said Jonathan Gartrelle. He’s been a familiar face at most of Miami’s racial injustice and police brutality protest over the summer.
“I have been shot with rubber bullets. I have had teargas shot at me. I had to run into tear gas and carry people out,” said Gartrelle.
His mission has been fighting for change, founding his organization The Sound.
Now he seems to be faced with a fight within a fight as Republican state lawmakers try to push forward the legislation aimed at preventing riots and public disorder.
However, Gartrelle believes the bill is not meant for people like the Capitol rioters.
“This is written in such a broad way as to apply to everybody. But we know, you know, I know, the viewers know that this will be selectively applied,” said Gartrelle. “And this is purposefuly done with the intention of silencing Black voices.”
Besides the First Amendment concerns, civil rights attorney Marwan Porter says it also have the potential to expand the use of Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law.
“You have prosecutors and defense lawyers both saying that this is a problem, and the general language and the vagueness of the language, in and of itself, will allow for people to interpret situations the way that they want to so they can bring about destruction based on a personal agenda.”