We all watched with horror and dismay the events of January 6 when our nation’s Capitol was overrun, and in the aftermath, we prepared Florida’s capital city to ensure that we would not see the same thing happen here.
We all agree that more needs to be done to combat extremism, White supremacy, and domestic terrorism in our country and in our communities, but the anti-protest legislation making its way through the Florida Legislature now does none of those things. And while some suggest that this legislation is in response to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the truth is that it was proposed last summer in the wake of the global protests against racial injustice after the killing of George Floyd and directed at Black Lives Matter protests.
As Mayor, I take seriously my responsibility to keep all of our citizens safe. We have zero-tolerance for violence, and we are going to enforce our laws to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all of our residents.
As the Capital City of Florida, the third-largest state in the union, we experience more protests, marches, sit-ins, and demonstrations than any other city in the state, and we already have all the tools we need to address acts of violence in our city. This bill is attempting to solve a problem we don’t have, and it will have the effect — intended or not — of stifling constitutionally-protected speech.
This bill doesn’t just increase the penalties for those who commit violence during a protest, it allows someone to be arrested for simply participating in a protest where violence occurs. In America, you can and should be held accountable for crimes you commit, but in a democracy, no one should be punished for crimes committed by someone else.
While this bill purports to give law enforcement more tools to address violence, it once again tramples Home Rule — the ability for the governments closest to the people to determine what is best in their community. It is bad enough that the state has for decades routinely preempted cities and counties from fully governing according to the will of the governed in their communities, this bill would give the state a line-item-veto on local budgets. The state would not stand for the federal government engaging in this sort of overreach and disregard for states’ rights and neither should they engage in the same type of overreach and disregard of Home Rule, a principle that is enshrined in our State’s constitution.
Peaceful protests are part of our American story and part of Tallahassee’s story. Every year we commemorate the Tallahassee Bus Boycott, an instrumental direct-action campaign during the Civil Rights Movement, because we know Tallahassee, Florida, and the South would not be what they are today without the bravery and fortitude of those who engaged in civil disobedience and exercised their constitutional rights to work toward a more just and equitable world.
Most people know that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly — but most forget the final element: the right to redress your government. I have been an elected official for 14 years and I receive my share of criticism. I may not always like it, I may disagree with the criticism, I may even find some of it distasteful, but I will fight with every bone in my body to protect your First Amendment right to do so.
When I launched the “All Human Rights Are Local” initiative on U.N. World Human Rights Day last December, I said, “Human rights cannot be fully realized if they are not respected and enacted locally” — this is true at the municipal level and it is true at the state level.
Make no mistake, this piece of proposed legislation is a human rights issue. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifically enumerates the right to peacefully assemble for a reason. Where the rights of free speech and assembly are flouted, the infringement of other rights will soon follow.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are protesting, whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or an NPA — you should not fear reprisal from the government solely because they don’t like what you have to say and you may have said it in proximity to bad actors.
This bill is bad for Tallahassee and it is bad for Florida.
John Dailey is the Mayor of Tallahassee.