The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement Monday urging lawmakers to reject bills that would increase legal penalties for violent protestors.
The legislation has been in the works since the summer, when mostly peaceful protests broke out across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
The message from SPLC frames the legislation in light of the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol: “On the same afternoon a violent mob stormed into the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. armed with zip ties, pipe bombs, and other assault weapons, two Republican Florida lawmakers filed companion bills (House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 484) that, if passed, would enact Governor Ron DeSantis’ priority legislation seeking to limit First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.”
It continues: ”The legislation would also enhance criminal penalties for offenses already codified by law, eliminate bail for people arrested while protesting during their first court appearance, and result in a loss of local control over municipal budgets by allowing state officials to overrule local municipalities that seek to cut funding for law enforcement.”
Per the bill, penalties would increase for defacing public monuments or memorials. It would also enshrine new offenses for “doxing,” the posting of private information about people on social media sites, and “mob intimidation,” defined as when three or more people act “with a common intent, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person by force, or threat of force, to do any act or to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint.”
Carrie Boyd, policy counsel for the SPLC Action Fund, said, “The terrorist actions of a mob of white nationalists who are responsible for the deaths of five people cannot be compared with the peaceful protests of largely Black and Brown protestors over the last several months who simply want their civil rights upheld as mandated by the Constitution. While this bill has been modified from the initial version released last fall, it is still an over-militarized attempt to quash free speech and continue to deny equal justice under Florida law.
“Moreover, it would grossly undermine local authorities and allow the governor and his cabinet to take control over municipal matters as they deem fit. Florida’s criminal code is already more than equipped to respond to violent mob actions like what our nation—and the world—witnessed in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. Any notion that the intent of this bill is to protect public safety is completely absurd.”