Gov. DeSantis, GOP legislative leaders propose harsh measures against ‘Defund the Police’ protests
Ron DeSantis and next year's legislative leaders unveiled a plan Monday to crack down on violent protests. Image via Colin Hackley.

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The Governor's proposed bill would stiffen penalties, create new criminal offenses and halt grants to jurisdictions that slash law enforcement funding.

In response to increased protests, which have spawned violence and looting in parts of the country, Gov. Ron DeSantis and leading lawmakers standing beside law enforcement officers unveiled a plan cracking down on violent demonstrations.

The proposed legislation, titled the “Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” creates new offenses targeting violence at protests, increases penalties and implements other hard-line actions. One “citizen and taxpayer protection measure” would prohibit state grants and aid to local governments that slash law enforcement budgets, a direct counter to the “Defund the Police” movement.

“If you defund the police, then the state is going to defund any grant or aid coming to you,” DeSantis told reporters.

That legislation will be a focal point of the 2021 Legislative Session, DeSantis said, standing beside Senate President-Designate Wilton Simpson and House Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls.

The rise in protests, which followed George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, have brought mostly peaceful demonstrations, but violent actions as well. Leaders of both parties have denounced violent protests, but Republicans and President Donald Trump have made combating violence central to their law and order message.

DeSantis called the current moment “a really, really sad chapter in American history” with morale at a low in law enforcement nationwide.

“Recently in our country, we have seen attacks on law enforcement, we’ve seen disorder and tumult in many cities across the country,” he said. “You’ll have situations where buildings will be in flames and on TV, even though sometimes the news will say it’s peaceful, you see the flames behind there.”

Certain violent actions at protests could draw felonies under the proposed bill. Damage to property or injury to people by a group of violent demonstrators would be a third-degree felony, as would obstructing traffic during an unsanctioned or violent protest.

Drivers fleeing a “mob” would not be liable for injury or death.

Florida hasn’t had violence or looting like in Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland and other cities named during the news conference. But Tallahassee, including outside the Historic Capitol Building, has seen unsanctioned protests that block roadways or lead to violent responses from motorists.

Sprowls, a former prosecutor, said Florida’s leaders wouldn’t follow the same path as New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago.

“Downtown Manhattan looks more like an illustration of Gotham City than it does the heartbeat of America’s financial sector, and yet the officials in those states, the elected officials in those communities, have abdicated their number one responsibility to empower their law enforcement officers to defend their neighbors,” he said.

On top of his nod to law enforcement, DeSantis credited civil rights era Floridians for inspiring protests that were “legitimately non-violent” in the state.

“Non-violence to them, you talk to some of these African American pastors, that’s like a fish in water,” the Governor said. “It just goes hand-in-hand, and so we absolutely recognize that and appreciated that at the time, and I think that that’s been overall the way that it’s gone.”

Destroying public property, including monuments, would be a second-degree felony under the proposal. Participating in a violent or disorderly assembly to harass or intimidate a person at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant, would be a first-degree misdemeanor.

“You see these videos of these innocent people eating dinner, and you have these crazed lunatics just screaming at them and intimating them,” DeSantis said. “On a public accommodation, you’re not going to do that here in the state of Florida.”

The packaged bill would also stiffen jail penalties, including creating a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for striking an officer, including with a projectile, during a violent or disorderly assembly. Other heightened offenses include traveling from out of state to participate in such a protest.

“If you look at some of the people who have been involved in this violence, these are people that will come from all across the country. If there’s any type of issue, they all of a sudden show up in all of these places,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to figure out who’s organizing and who’s funding that and hold them accountable.”

Additionally, he is interested in tracking funding for violence protesters.

“There’re cities where there are just bricks just dropped off on a city corner. Where’s that coming from?” DeSantis questioned. Where are you getting — who’s funding just dropping bricks so people can go grab bricks?”

Communities need to have clear and consistent penalties to maintain law and order, the Governor added.

“I look at what goes on in Portland, and they’ll have people, they’ll arrest them — these are all scraggly-looking antifa types — they get their mugshot taken and then they get released,” he said. “It’s like a carousel. On and on it goes. That’s not going to happen here in Florida.”

DeSantis spent early Friday afternoon to law enforcement office leaders, including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a former Florida Sheriffs Association president. Judd arrived at the press conference armed with visual aids for “slow learners” on the difference between peaceful protests and riots, looting and violence.

“If you loot, the next thing that you can try to steal is something off of your food tray at the county jail, because you’re going to jail,” he said, eliciting chuckles from the officers behind him. “That’s a guarantee, and we’re going to enjoy taking you down there.”

Safe communities are the basis for good schools and a good economy, Judd added.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in a tweet praised DeSantis for announcing the campaign. He also encouraged the other 49 states to follow the Governor’s lead.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


12 comments

  • S.B. ANTHONY

    September 21, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    Last time I looked, Americans still had the constitutional right to peacefully protest,
    even if the “governor” doesn’t like the point of the protest. He and his Dear Leader
    may want to incite violence at the protests in order to quell First Amendment rights,
    but peaceful protests are still a constitutionally protected right.

    Ronnie might want to dig his copy of the Constitution out of the basement and dust if off.
    If he’s never read it, it’s available online.

    • Dee

      September 25, 2020 at 12:26 pm

      He was not talking about PEACEFUL protest….ya might want to read it again!

  • NO MORE REPUBLICANS !!!

    September 21, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    If Gov. Sycophantis and his band of little loopey lemmings choose to turn Florida into a Republican police state – so be it! Those who disagree can cooperate to elect a completely new state government in 2022 – or – we can choose to fight the sycophantic fascists and officially begin the 2nd Civil War – or – we can choose to move the hell out to a Blue State where democracy is still in vogue and in operation. (Frankly, I like the idea of the 20 or so reliably Blue States simply seceding and going their own way.)

    • Dee

      September 25, 2020 at 12:27 pm

      Go ahead….move! See ya!

  • Ron Ogden

    September 21, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    Trouble is Dems can’t tell the difference between peaceful protest and violent conflict. The one is constitutionally protected, the other is illegal, must be punished and should be stopped. Neither the president nor the governor is inciting violence–the radical Dems are undertaking it on their own. When toddlers don’t get their way they get down on the floor and scream and pound their fists. Whatsa diff between them and their older siblings?

  • Sonja Fitch

    September 21, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    The goptrump cult and its ilk like Duffus Desantis are damn fascists! Vote Blue! Vote Democrat up and down ballot!

    • Dee

      September 25, 2020 at 12:29 pm

      Trump 2020….you can always move to Portland if your unhappy here!

  • James Robert Miles

    September 21, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    Fascism comes to the U.S. with Trump and to Florida with DeSatan who can’t do ANYTHING without Trump’s permission. He is part of the man-child syndrome that is so much a part of Trump. Republicans don’t read the U.S. Constitution because they don’t believe in it and can’ stomach the Bill of Rights! The GOP extremist party have put the U.S. on the path towards total fascism which Trump has learned from his butt buddy Putin. Trump is the bottom and Putin is the top as the U.S. gets screwed everyday by the Russians. Trump lets Russia use our soldiers as target practice while calling the dead soldiers suckers and losers as he was told by Putin. Trump is as un-American as he can get but his idiot supporters can’t see this. DUMP TRUMP 2020 and save America! ANYBODY but TRUMP, America’s greatest loser!!

    • Dee

      September 25, 2020 at 12:30 pm

      Trump 2020 !!!!

  • BLM thugs

    September 22, 2020 at 2:26 am

    GREAT JOB RON!!!! PUT THOSE BLACK LIVES MATTER AND ANTIFA THUGS IN PRISON AND THROW AWAY THE KEYS. START IN JACKSONVILLE, PLEASE

  • Paul Voight

    September 25, 2020 at 7:04 am

    Grady does his slick little dog and pony, tough on crime marketing show and a lot of dumb asses watching nod their heads in Pavlovian response agreement without even looking into the Santis legislation that he’s talking about which of course is left out of the video. Grady gives a pathetic nod to what he considers free speech which is “to speak openly and freely to address our government”. What does that even mean? It’s a very narrow and ambiguous definition of protest. “Speaking freely” is the extent of his views on what he defines as acceptable. That should be setting off red flags to every American.

    The language in the legislation basically lets law enforcement define what is orderly and what is not orderly behavior which is a very dangerous path to go down. Here are things that have been called disorderly many times before: walking in the street, standing on a sidewalk, not having a permit, not immediately following an officer’s demand no matter how ludicrous or unconstitutional, chanting a slogan that someone might find offensive. They are the exact types of things that are clamped down on in authoritarian regimes and are antithetical to America. It’s amazing how many sheep are so quick to support policies that are similarly found in the dictatorships around the world. The legislation gives too much latitude to what the police could consider not a peaceful protest and it then assigns draconian punishments to people whose lives would be ruined because they came out to peacefully protest but violated one of the nebulous rules of what speaking freely means.

    There are plenty of laws currently on the books against rioting, looting and property destruction. Sure Grady, get out there and enforce those laws. Nothing is stopping him now from doing his job and going after people that violate those laws. Have the legislators of Florida been so incompetent in setting laws over the past hundred years that their laws about rioting, looting and property destruction don’t exist or are meaningless and weak? That’s not the case.

    Instead of applying existing laws, DeSantis, Grady want loosey-goosey laws that law enforcement can interpret as they like which would upend the Constitution/Bill of Rights by doing things like denying people bail who have been charged and not convicted, by using organized crime federal racketeering statutes like RICO to go after protesters for non-federal offenses, by mandating protesters be fired from their jobs or blocked from employment, by denying public benefits to protesters, by re-categorizing small misdemeanors as felonies, by charging people differently because of where they live. Each of those is in the legislation and is not just government over-reach but a further slide toward the types of governments that used gulags, concentration camps and dungeons that weren’t that long ago. Draconian legislation attempts during a current crisis are almost always going to result in bad legislation. Legislation that takes away long fought freedoms that make America great is always bad legislation.

    Get out there and be tough on crime Grady and get those rioters, looters and property destroyers, but stay the hell away our freedom and liberty.

  • Byron Prewitt

    September 29, 2020 at 10:40 am

    First of all part of the problem is not the protests itself. It’s the violence that happens at some of them. You have to look at what is going on overall. I believe in what they are passing through on this one is the who is behind the violence and the funding of said violence. The thought of even that is a start. I mean look at some of the violence that happened at some of the protests where bricks where delivered before hand in various places. Someone had to pay for those. That’s who they are trying to get. And the bad actors that start out peacefully but go to swinging blows on others much less than on law enforcement. I mean come on here. You want to peacefully protest get a permit and get it done. No one has an issue with that. It’s the violence and distruction of property,and the voilence on others that this is hitting.

Comments are closed.


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