Earlier this year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an anti-riot bill into law. The law, HB 1 or “Combating Public Disorder,” says that protests that become violent can be criminalized. Mob intimidation would be classified as a first-degree misdemeanor with a sentence of one year in prison while causing a riot could get protestors up to 15 years in prison.
Judging The Law
The ACLU and others immediately jumped on the bandwagon against the bill, saying it “specifically targets Black people, infringes on Floridians’ First Amendment rights and ‘deters and punishes peaceful protests.'”
They sued the state of Florida as well ad Governor De Santis. The lawsuit went before a federal judge. Recently, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the law was “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable.”
According to WTVJ, Walker felt the law was too “vague and overbroad.” He delivered his ruling in a 90-page decision.
A Rights Violation
Walker went on to say that the phrasing of the bill violated First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. It also violated people’s right to due process.
He also considered that those who may be in the wrong place at the wrong time might be swept up in arrests if a protest became violent.
“If this court does not enjoin the statute’s enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians.”Judge Mark Walker
He also said, “It, unfortunately, takes only a handful of bad actors to transform a peaceful protest into a violent public disturbance.”
The Florida NAACP, Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, Dream Defenders, and other groups said the law was created to prevent protesting from minority groups.
Proponents of the law and the governor’s office disagreed with the governor’s attorneys, arguing that a distinction was made between peaceful protests and riots.
But the judge did not agree with the governor’s attorneys. He wrote, “Because it is unclear whether a person must share an intent to do violence and because it is unclear what it means to participate, the statute can plausibly be read to criminalize continuing to protest after violence occurs, even if the protestors are not involved in, and do not support, the violence.”