Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced new legislation Monday that would create additional felonies to punish protesters who turn violent and would create severe penalties for cities that elect to defund or disband their police departments.
Local Miami news reports that “violent protesters and looters would face new felonies” under the legislation, particularly if they damage property as part of their demonstrations, engage in “disorderly” conduct,” or assault a law enforcement officer.
If caught and convicted, violent protesters could lose their access to state-based welfare programs, DeSantis said.
“DeSantis told reporters during a news briefing at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office the bill would charge protesters with felonies for damaging property and inflicting injuries, as well as sentence them to mandatory jail time for hitting a law enforcement officer,” POLITICO noted Monday. “The bill, which state lawmakers will consider during next year’s legislative session, would also bar protesters who commit crimes from receiving state benefits or working for the state.”
Florida, unlike Washington, Oregon, New York, and Illinois, has not seen overtly violent anti-police and anti-racism protests, though individual protests in places like Tallahassee and Miami have occasionally devolved into violence, per local media. In Miami, Black Lives Matter protesters have pressed for the police to stop using non-lethal methods to control protests that get out of hand.
DeSantis says, though, that the new legislation is designed to prevent the type of violence, anarchy, and destruction Americans have witnessed in places like Portland, Oregon, where unrest has raged unabated for more than 100 days. The legislation also covers activities like harassing people dining at restaurants and tearing down monuments.
“We’re not going to go down the road that other places have gone,” DeSantis said in his press conference. “If you do it, and you know that a ton of bricks will rain down on you, then I think people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct.”
To reinforce the idea that the new laws were designed to provide law enforcement with more tools to control destructive demonstrations, the package includes proposed penalities for municipalities who elect to “defund the police” or disband their local police departments.
“The proposed package would also strip municipalities of state money if they defund law enforcement,” local Miami news reported.
Florida is the first state to take an active role in preventing destructive rioting and looting. In other areas of the country, the federal government has found it necessary to step in after local and state officials failed to exercise control.
As The Daily Wire reported early Monday, Attorney General William Barr declared Portland, Seattle, and New York City “anarchist jurisdictions” — a status that allows the federal government to intervene in some areas of crime control.
“When state and local leaders impede their own law-enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” Barr said in a statement. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”