WASHINGTON — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a controversial bill today that would greatly enhance law enforcement’s power to quell protests, a blatant attack on Floridians’ civil liberties. It’s no coincidence that the legislation was proposed in the wake of Black Lives Matters protests over the past year, even though supporters acknowledge that there was little violence during the demonstrations. The law is part of a growing trend across Republican-led legislatures to crack down on American’s first amendment rights to protest their government.
“The GOP’s authoritarian impulse strikes again,” said Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee President Jessica Post. “The right to protest is a fundamental American political freedom, and this law represents a grievous assault on Floridians’ First Amendment protections. We’ve seen time and again how Republicans are eager to control all of our lives. Our freedoms mean absolutely nothing to them.”
The law creates a broad category for misdemeanor arrest during protests and would deny bail to anyone charged with those offenses until their first court hearing. The legislation would also grant civil immunity to anyone who drives through protestors blocking a road, a particularly appalling provision given the growing trend of extremists targeting protestors, and the murder of Heather Heyer during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Republicans across the country are introducing similar authoritarian legislation that would attack Americans’ First Amendment rights. Some bills, including in Arizona and Minnesota, would make anyone convicted of a related offense ineligible for government benefits like food stamps or even financial aid. Republicans in Oklahoma already passed a similar bill that protects people who drive through protestors, while Indiana and Iowa have passed bills that would stiffen protest-related penalties.