Florida's DeSantis signs controversial law targeting 'rioters,' local police reform efforts

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
(Image credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed into law controversial "anti-riot" legislation that increases penalties for certain kinds of protests, creates a new crime called "mob intimidation," requires that people arrested at protests remain in jail until their first court appearance, threatens sanctions for local municipalities that reduce or shift funding for law enforcement, and allows businesses to sue cities and local officials if the municipalities are found to have provided inadequate law enforcement protection during protests.

DeSantis, flanked by GOP officials and law enforcement officers, called the new law "strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement measure in the country." Critics called the law unconstitutional and vowed to sue Florida.

"The bill will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, creating new jail beds in a mass incarceration system that is already over-bloated and on the brink of collapse," said Mikah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, and "it shields violent counter-protesters from civil liability if they injure or kill a protester or demonstrator."

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"Republicans love to talk about the Constitution, but they're shredding it with bills" like this, said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's lone statewide elected Democrat. "Silencing speech and blocking the vote is what communist regimes do."

DeSantis said the law is necessary to prevent the kind of damage that accompanied some anti-racism protests last summer. "If you riot, if you loot, if you harm others, particularly if you harm a law enforcement officer during one of these violent assemblies, you're going to jail," he said. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd held up photographs of people having fun at Disney World and beaches, then warned new residents not to "register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up north." He pointed to Florida's low crime rate and said people "up north" are getting killed and victimized.

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Overall crime dropped 12 percent in Florida in the first half of 2020, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reported in January, but murders jumped 16.2 percent and aggravated assaults rose 6.5 percent. Homicides were up in all but one Florida county, and they soared 31 percent in Miami-Dade County and 16 percent in Jacksonville, NPR reported. That's on par with national trends for 2020.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.