Gov. Ron DeSantis said he supports demonstrators showing support for the protests in Cuba, but he does not support those demonstrators blocking major South Florida thoroughfares.
Demonstrators supporting the protests in Cuba marched to Miami’s Palmetto Expressway Tuesday, where several of them sat down in the roadway. Traffic was eventually blocked in both directions.
“We can’t have that. It’s dangerous for you to be shutting down a thoroughfare. You’re also putting other people in jeopardy. You don’t know if an emergency vehicle needs to get somewhere, and then, obviously, it’s just disrespectful to make people stand in traffic,” DeSantis said speaking at a news conference Thursday about the ongoing situation in Cuba.
DeSantis’ condemnation comes two days after the South Florida demonstrations and after DeSantis said protests in Cuba were a “much different situation” than Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.
Police didn’t immediately move the Cuba protest-supporting demonstrators blocking the South Florida expressway Tuesday, spurring Democratic Rep. Omari Hardy to tweet about it.
“I’m very happy that everyday Cubans feel empowered enough to protest the injustices in their country. But when Black Americans protest injustice using the very same methods, we are deemed rioters, subversives, traitors, un-American,” he wrote.
DeSantis said Thursday demonstrators expressing solidarity with Cuba weren’t rioting.
“They’re not violent. Those aren’t riots. They’re out there being peaceful, and they’re making their voice heard, and we support them and their ability to do that. But it can’t be where you shut down commerce, or you shut down the ability to use these arteries,” DeSantis said about the people blocking traffic.
Democrats are suggesting the Governor isn’t fairly applying his new protest law, House Bill 1. That law, which DeSantis proposed after protests over the police killing of George Floyd last summer, increases penalties for people who commit crimes while protesting in Florida.
Senate Democrats sent Attorney General Ashley Moody a letter Wednesday asking for clarification about how House Bill 1 would be applied.
“We believe it is critical for every Floridian to be treated equally, and since we’ve seen peaceful protests emerge across various municipalities and local governments — many spilling onto state roadways — it’s critical that elected officials and Floridians alike have clarity from your perspective as Florida’s Chief Legal Officer as it relates to the new statute,” read the letter, which was signed by Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, Sens. Lori Berman, Janet Cruz, Jason Pizzo and Bobby Powell.
But DeSantis on Thursday told reporters blocking major thoroughfares was “illegal in Florida way before HB 1,” which is true. House Bill 1 updated an existing Florida statute about blocking roads during a protest. The previous statute also held that it was illegal for a person to obstruct traffic on public streets.
The protests mark the first major test for House Bill 1, a controversial law that’s facing multiple court challenges.
Senate Democrats wrote in their letter they are pleased so far with the way the new law largely has not been applied.
“We are pleased and frankly thankful that the draconian and anti-democratic measures contained within HB 1 have not been weaponized against those who are peacefully protesting,” read the letter.