Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Pushes for Felony Charges for Violent Protesters

Getty Florida Governor Ron DeSantis arrives at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum for a campaign event with US President Donald Trump in Jupiter, Florida, on September 8, 2020.

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis introduced legislation Monday that would create new criminal offenses for some of the acts that are causing damage and destruction during the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.

The new piece of legislature is called the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act, and it aims to make harsher penalties for those who are caught being destructive, overly disruptive, or harming others as part of protests.

If the new legislation passes, it would make it a second-degree felony to topple a monument and a third-degree felony to destroy property or injure someone during a protest. The bill would also make it a third-degree felony to obstruct traffic as part of a protest, and takes it one step further by saying that if a driver kills or injures someone while “fleeing from a mob” during a protest they will not be considered liable.

The proposed legislation would also make it a first-degree misdemeanor for anyone to “harass or intimidate a person at a public accommodation, like a restaurant.”

DeSantis called the measure “probably the boldest and most comprehensive piece of legislation to address these issues, anywhere in the country,” during a press conference Monday.

He said, “I think what it’s saying is we are not going to let Florida go down the road that some of these other places have gone, and if you can do this and get away with it, then you’re going to have more people do it. If you do it and you know that there’s going to be a ton of bricks rain down on you, then I think that people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct.”

Mandatory Jail Terms, No Bail Option & Punitive Measures Against Local Governments That Defund Police Are All Part of the Proposed Legislation

Another part of the bill includes not permitting defunding police anywhere in the state, and any municipality that chooses to defund police would see any grants or aid they get from the state to be “slashed.”

DeSantis wants to see mandatory six-month jail terms for anyone who “strikes” an officer of the law during a disorderly and violent protest, and a no-bail until their first court appearance policy for anyone arrested during a “violent or disorderly assembly.”

He says the reason for the harsher penalties in the state, even though Florida has not seen nearly as much in the way of violent protests as places like Portland, Seattle, or Kenosha, WI, is to deter anyone from being destructive and violent during protests going forward. DeSantis said of the proposed legislation:

I think it’ll send a strong signal and once someone comes the first time they grab that brick, and they hit the police officer in the head, and then they get arrested, they’re held without bail. They have mandatory time in jail. You’re not gonna see people throw bricks anymore. I mean they do it because they think they can get away with it, and even some of the stuff in Florida I mean there were people that did some things that that were prosecuted but not really. I think held accountable to the extent necessary to really deter future activity I think this one will do that.

The Proposed Bill Would Take Away State Benefits Like Welfare From Anyone Convicted of Participating in a ‘Violent or Disorderly Assembly’ & Arrest Organizers & Funders of Violent Protests

GettyA member of the Proud Boys is seen handcuffed as he is arrested by Oregon police after allegedly attacking Antifa protestors in Salem, Oregon on September 7, 2020. – Pro-Trump protestors and members of the alt-right conservative groups Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys clashed with alt-left protestors from Antifa.

According to the new legislation, which DeSantis says is in part to protect the community and in part to support law enforcement, anyone who is convicted of “participating in a violent or disorderly assembly would lose state benefits like welfare and would no longer be eligible to work for any body of Florida government, whether at the state or local level.

The Governor also wants to charge those who organize protests that turn destructive.

DeSantis said that the combined measures are because “we want to make sure that Florida, while a place for robust debate and people being able to do whatever they want in terms of demonstrating their beliefs, that we have zero tolerance for violence, zero tolerance for disorder and zero tolerance for looting.”

DeSantis also said he wants to avoid what he says he sees in places like Portland where violent protesters he describes as “scraggly looking Antifa types” are arrested, then get out of jail quickly and go back to causing harm.

However, accusations have come from the right and the left regarding what groups are causing much of the violence. While Antifa is not an organized group, rather it’s an ideology, those who identify with the radical left school of thought have often been accused of instigating much of the violence at Black Lives Matter protests.

Alternately, several organized alt-right groups have also been accused of instigating and contributing to much of the violent clashes seen in some of the protests. DeSantis says he hopes to be able to charge anyone who is found to be behind such organizations and funding that are meant to turn peaceful protests to violent ones.

“We’re… going to use Rico liability to anyone who organizes or funds, a violent or disorderly assembly, ” DeSantis said. “If you look at some of the people who’ve been involved in this violence. These are people that will come from all across the world across the country. If there’s any type of issue they all of a sudden show up and all these places. We’re going to figure out who’s organizing and who’s funding that and hold them accountable. But what you have to have is clear and predictable penalties.”

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