Gov. Ron DeSantis opened a St. Petersburg press conference on Friday with a message for law abiding-Floridians: “We got your back.”
The Governor’s remarks were in response to a now-viral confrontation between several protesters and a couple at a St. Petersburg restaurant. The protest was in response to a Kentucky grand jury’s decision to not yield criminal charges in the Breonna Taylor case.
In the video, five protesters are seen taking over the dining table of a couple who was seated outdoors. The protesters can also be heard hurling expletives at the couple while another, who the Governor called a “lunatic,” threatened to knock one of them out.
DeSantis told reporters that protesters have the right to demonstrate until their “heart is content.” He described some of their language and antics, however, as “revolting.”
“The minute that crosses over from just peaceful assembly to where your harassing somebody else or your intimidating or threatening them particularly when they are in a public accommodation like a restaurant…” he said. “That is unacceptable and we’re not going to allow it.”
The Governor on Monday, against a national backdrop of civil unrest, unveiled future legislation that would stiffen penalties against violence and looting during protests in Florida.
The proposed legislation, titled the “Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” creates and increases penalties against riot-related acts.
DeSantis said the legislation would deal with situations similar the St. Petersburg incident.
“If you go out here in the state of Florida and you’re sitting at a restaurant, you should be able to do that in peace without having some lunatic come up on yell in your face,” he said. “I think that that should be dealt with anyway, but our legislation will certainly do that.”
The Tampa Bay Times reported that a protester later tweeted a photo of the couple gesturing a thumbs down and the middle finger at demonstrators.
He told reporters he had not seen the photo.