Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Bill Protecting Drivers Who Hit Protesters
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the HB 1 bill “Combating Public Disorder” on Tuesday which purports to protect police officers during public protests. Opponents have claimed that the bill will only serve as a way to criminalize peaceful protests against police brutality.
The bill will allow prosecutors and local officials to appeal potential police budget cuts. The bill also makes battery on a law enforcement officer “in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot” punishable by at least six months in prison. In addition, “willfully and maliciously” tearing down a memorial or historic property will become a a second-degree felony – a measure that some critics claim is meant to protect protect Confederate monuments. Most controversially, the bill provides legal protections to drivers who hit protesters in engaged in a “riot.”
Participation in a riot, which is defined as three or more people acting together to “assist each other in violent and disorderly conduct” that results in injury, property damage or “imminent danger,” would be defined as a third-degree felony, according to the bill.
HB I also seeks to create defensive measures in civil lawsuits if the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by riot participation or unlawful assembly – a move that could protect counter-protestors, who seek to harm (or even potentially kill) peaceful demonstrators, critics say.
The A.C.L.U. of Florida expressed its outrage over the bill. “HB 1 is racist, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic, plain and simple,” the organization said in a statement. “The bill was purposely designed to embolden the disparate police treatment we have seen over and over again directed towards Black and brown people who are exercising their constitutional right to protest.”
DeSantis said the bill is an attempt “to uphold the rights of our state’s residents while protecting businesses and supporting our brave men and women in law enforcement.” In a statement, the governor’s office said, “This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble, while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished. Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police.”