Protests

Florida's 'Anti-Rioting' Bill Gives the Government New Powers That Have Nothing to Do With Riots

Among other things, it calls for online censorship to shield identities of public officials and lets the governor control city police budgets.

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Florida lawmakers passed a new anti-rioting bill Thursday supported by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis despite the objections of civil rights groups, which argue the legislation can and will be abused to target and punish peaceful protesters.

A read through H.B. 1 shows that it's been designed so that supporters of the bill can insist that it's only about fighting criminal and violent riot tactics. But its critics are correct: It contains vague enough wording to allow police to abuse it to shut down protests.

Here's what's in H.B. 1:

  • H.B. 1 fleshes out existing laws against blocking streets as part of protests and increases penalties for anybody who commits battery or similar violent crimes as part of a riot.
  • It establishes a minimum six-month jail sentence for anybody convicted of battery against a police officer as part of a riot.
  • It creates a new crime—mob intimidation—which is defined as two or more people attempting to use or threatening force "to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will," punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor (which entails up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine).
  • It establishes that anybody convicted of vandalizing or destroying historic property or a memorial is committing a felony, with a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000, as well as restitution orders.
  • H.B. 1 further establishes a mandate that municipalities must respond to protect people and their property during a riot or any unlawful assembly. Failure to do so strips the municipality itself of civil immunity and opens it up to lawsuits for damages.
  • It gives a commission in the governor's office veto power over municipalities within the state if they attempt to reduce the budget of their own police departments.
  • It prohibits releasing anybody arrested for certain crimes like theft or assault during a riot until the arrested person has appeared before a magistrate.
  • It separately and specifically prohibits anybody who is arrested for "unlawful assembly," which is defined as any gathering of people to "commit a breach of the peace" or any other unlawful act (not necessarily rioting), from being released until they're brought before the court.
  • It creates a new crime of "cyberintimidation by publication," making it unlawful to electronically publish somebody's personal identification information with the intent to (or with the intent that a third party will) incite violence against the person, harass the person, or place "such person in reasonable fear of bodily harm." This section makes no distinction between private citizens or government workers or even elected political figures. Violating the law is a first-degree misdemeanor (up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine).
  • It creates an affirmative defense for anybody taken to civil court over injury, damage, or death if it is the result of a participant in the lawsuit engaging in rioting. This part of the law has been presented in the press as granting legal immunity to people who run over protesters.

There's a lot going on in this law—not all of it terrible—but there are many troubling components. There is hardly a place in America where the penalties for crimes are too small, and Florida is no exception. We don't need to increase the penalties for existing crimes just because they take place during riots.

Detaining people arrested for violent crimes or thefts during riots until they go before a judge is a measure that seems on the surface to be reasonable, but the whole justification for it seems suspect given that the bill also applies to the extremely subjective and abused crime of "unlawful assembly." This part of the bill creates an incentive for law enforcement officials to declare any sort of protest on a controversial matter (especially one that critiques their power) as "unlawful" and clean off the streets, knowing that everybody they arrest will be detained for at least the evening. Lawmakers and DeSantis insist that this is all about keeping rioters from being released to cause more trouble, but the wording of the law is much looser than that, and it will almost certainly be used to detain people overnight who are not, in fact, engaging in violent behavior.

Florida's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union noted Thursday how the law's wording is prone to abuse: "By redefining 'rioting,' the bill grants police officers broad discretion in deciding who could be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony at a protest and fails to provide protection for people who have not engaged in any disorderly and violent conduct. In Florida, a felony charge strips people of their voting rights."

Some of the worst parts of the bill have nothing to do with rioting at all. It's absolutely absurd, and certainly a violation of separation of powers in Florida, for the governor's office to attempt to seize control of budget allocation for a municipal police department at the request of the state attorney who works the area. It's literally the executive branch attempting to seize control of the funding of executive branch activities.

The "cyberintimidation by publication" component essentially gives government officials a "heckler's veto" over the publication of critical information about them online and encouragement for public reaction by claiming it has created a "reasonable fear of bodily harm." It will most certainly be used by law enforcement officers to attempt to force censorship of images and videos of them online engaging in what people might see as violent or abusive behavior.

Maybe it's my distaste of government civil immunity talking, but the part of H.B. 1 that strips immunity when cities don't take action against riots seems defensible. Note that this doesn't guarantee that somebody will win a lawsuit when they accuse a government or its police department of not protecting them or their property from rioters. It simply allows the lawsuit to actually happen.

Similarly, the part of the law that provides a defense in civil suits involving rioters would be supportable but for the fact that the bill itself plays around with the definition of what a rioter is. The description within the bill of a rioter is somebody who "willfully participates" in a public disturbance involving people who are acting with the common intent to engage in violent conduct that threatens property or the public. It doesn't actually require that the person participate in the actual violent conduct to be classified as a rioter, just the disturbance itself.

And that's why people are worrying that this would allow a defense against civil lawsuits for running over protesters. In this scenario, it's the government deciding who to classify as a protester and as a rioter, and the vagueness is concerning. As part of the bill, the defense only needs to establish the participant was part of a riot based on a preponderance of the evidence. They don't even need to be convicted (though conviction can also be used as evidence).

DeSantis will sign the bill. He praised it in a statement: "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."

A small-government Republican, DeSantis is not.

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  2. Well I am sure those fine, upstanding people at the ACLU will be standing at the courthouse door the very first day after the first person is arrested for violating this law. We’ll see soon enough, I suspect.

    1. “All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void. ” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)

      “Where rights secured by the Constitution are involved, there can be no rule making or legislation which would abrogate them. Miranda vs Arizona, 384 US 436 p. 491

      “An unconstitutional act is not law; it confers no right; it imposes no duties; affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed.” Norton vs Shelby County118 US 425 p.442

      “The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and the name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law and no courts are bound to enforce it.” 16th American Jurisprudence 2d, Section 177 late 2nd, Section 256

      Enforce your rights. Nobody else will.

  3. Yeah, that’s not great. But at this point, I’m pretty much with anyone who is fighting the lockdown/mask up/shut down bullshit. That’s the most important thing right now. This must never happen again.

    1. Hard to control mother nature.

      How much will you guys freak out if the next pandemic is even deadlier and more contagious?

      1. You mean deadlier like the flu deadlier? Or deadlier like measles and pneumonia?

        1. Covid-19 was the 3rd leading cause of death in 2020. Flu didn’t even make the top 10, nor has it for more than 40 years.

          1. Do you honestly believe that? People who had died in car accidents, of Stage III cancer, of the actual flu, of heart failure, etc. were all listed as Covid deaths routinely and frequently, because they also had Covid (or in many notorious cases, didn’t). The reporting methodologies have been some of the biggest scandals in the last year.

            Covid is only a significant threat to people with age-related comorbidities like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure and clotting issues.

            1. Excess all cause mortality last year pretty closely matched deaths attributed to Covid ie about 500k. Are you saying that we had about 500k extra deaths from car accidents, cancer and flu?

              1. Bullshit.
                The entire thing was one giant fictitious fraud. The yearly flu categorized as ConVid-19 with all the drama queens hyping it up in the news to epic proportions. The biggest killer, as every other year, was medical malpractice.

      2. That’s why I want to control politicians. Lockdowns, mask mandates and forced business closures are not natural phenomena. And places that didn’t do those things did not do significantly worse in terms of death and illness, as much as people try to pretend otherwise.

        1. That’s the problem with being a psychopathic selfish ignoramus during a pandemic. Viruses don’t keep themselves to you.

          1. Asshole.

          2. And you might have a point if not for the second sentence in my comment.

      3. Hard to control mother nature.

        And yet you advocate for the government to try?

        1. I advocate for government to be aware of what nature is doing and respond pragmatically.

          Not, you know, ignore natural disasters altogether because they’d rather talk about Dr. Seuss.

          1. The last pragmatic government action was a two week shutdown to reduce strain on healthcare systems. Those have all passed a year now…

          2. ….but FL has better numbers than many other states. Why?

          3. No one is ignoring shit, idiot. It must be hard burning up those strawmen you spend so much time and care building.

  4. “It creates a new crime—mob intimidation—which is defined as two or more people attempting to use or threatening force “to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will,” punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor (which entails up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine).”

    Union thugs now out of business.

    1. No they protected them further on:

      It gives a commission in the governor’s office veto power over municipalities within the state if they attempt to reduce the budget of their own police departments.

    2. So are cops by this statute:

      “It is unlawful for a person, assembled with two or
      379 more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force
      380 or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or
      381 attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain
      382 from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a
      383 particular viewpoint against his or her will”

      They didn’t say the act had to be lawful, so don’t you dare defend yourself with two other people, and they forgot to put in a police exemption even though this is literally what police do all the time. Horribly written bill, it just assumes the enforcement will always be done by people who agree with the author and never bad actors.

  5. All in all it reads like a mostly peaceful bill – – – – – – – – – – – –

      1. I think the bill intensifies the mostly peaceful law enforcement.

        1. Fortified enforcement.

  6. Those poor, poor, looters and arsonists. We must protect their rights.

    Do the Reason Leftists ever think about the innocent victims of riots and mob rule? 1800 businesses destroyed in Minneapolis alone so far, should tax paying business owners and homeowners be protected or should we only be concerned for the “feelings” and “rights” of those rioters?
    What of the rights of those business owners and homeowners? Are they the enemy? Are they responsible for the actions of the police?

    1. Well, we must protect their rights. We must also protect the rights of business and property owners to defend themselves and shoot looters if it comes to that. I’m honestly surprised that a whole lot more looters didn’t get shot this past year. Probably would have given many pause had a few more gotten a face full of lead shot.

      1. Those Korean business owners during the Rodney King nonsense come to mind.

      2. People defending property were more often the ones arrested.

  7. “Florida’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union noted Thursday how the law’s wording is prone to abuse: “By redefining ‘rioting,’ the bill grants police officers broad discretion in deciding who could be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony at a protest and fails to provide protection for people who have not engaged in any disorderly and violent conduct.”

    Wow.
    The next thing you know they’ll be calling the protesters “insurrectionists”, putting them on “No fly” lists, and have the National Guard patrolling the fenced off streets of Tallahassee.

  8. We need more police power to protect us from people rioting against abuse of police power. Did I get that right?

    Is this the part where you threaten to let me get looted? After you ran in the opposite direction when it happend the last time?

    Or is this the part where you threaten to let me get robbed and beaten?

  9. Scott and any other writer how about instead of bulletin points how about numbers or letters for easy ref.

    Anyway,
    B1 – I like, blocking travel of citizens is a violation of their right to travel.
    B2 – Don’t like, battery of anyone regardless of circumstance or position should be sentenced at the same level.
    B3 – Not sure about yet
    B4 – Concerns when it comes to “Historic Property” – what if that historic property is my own?
    B5 – Love it. If I am forced to pay you for services then you damn better provide them.,
    B6 – Hate it. Jurisdictions unless they accept money with strings attached (don’t like that too much either) should be free to set their budgets.
    B7 – Like
    B8 – Share Scotts fear that this will be abused.
    B9 – Need more info, like definition of personal identification information
    B10 – Need to think on. But lean toward this is fine since using self defense to protect ones own rights is perfectly legal.

    Overall doesn’t seem like a bad law.

  10. It creates a new crime of “cyberintimidation by publication,” making it unlawful to electronically publish somebody’s personal identification information with the intent to (or with the intent that a third party will) incite violence against the person, harass the person, or place “such person in reasonable fear of bodily harm.” This section makes no distinction between private citizens or government workers or even elected political figures.

    Why should it?

    We don’t need to increase the penalties for existing crimes just because they take place during riots.

    That’s a hell of a claim to make without support.

  11. Shackford comes out in favor of doxxing public officials and harassment of them when dining out and in their homes. The language seems to support that being what it is in there for rather than not publishing official acts.

    1. Color me surprised.

      Not.

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  14. Punishing destruction of property, physical assault, and mob harassment isn’t really in conflict with what people on the right typically understand as “small government.” In fact, it’s pretty hard to enjoy freedom without such things being soundly protected.

  15. Yay reason loves “peaceful” riots.

  16. I’m liking Florida more and more because of its politics. Low taxes / economic freedom + solid law and order when it comes to the serious crimes is the kind of government I like. Considering moving there.

    1. Florida is a great state to live in.
      Come on down!
      We dodged a bullet in the recount for the Governor’s election.
      You can bet that if Gillum ( the Democrat) had won, we would still be in lockdown and this law would not have passed.
      I love that mobs are now forbidden from intimidating citizens, destroying statues and burning businesses.
      Yes like that criminals who do these things won’t be immediately let out to do it again. Like in Portland and Seattle.
      I am against the part forbidding lowering police budgets, the am certain that will get tossed, it’s clearly the legislature’s job to allocate budgets, and the executive can’t dictate budgeting.

  17. There were many incidents of vehicles being blockaded by swarms of “protestors” who then caused extreme property damage to vehicle and assaulted the occupants. “Protestors” do not have a right to falsely imprison and intimidate random people unfortunate enough to get caught up in their activities.

  18. It creates a new crime—mob intimidation—which is defined as two or more people attempting to use or threatening force “to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will,” punishable as a first-degree misdemeanor (which entails up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine).

    Doesn’t that cover about 80% of what cops do?

    1. One man patrol cars going forward.

      1. But what if they call for backup?

    2. And 100% of what blmantifa does

  19. Reason blog right now:

    Pressure Grows on Biden To Rescind Memo That Would Send Thousands Released on Home Confinement Back to Federal Prison

    More than 4,000 people released on home confinement could be sent back to federal prison after the pandemic. Senators and advocacy groups say it’s cruel and unnecessary.

    Michigan Moving To Make ‘Emergency’ COVID-19 Mandates Permanent

    Nothing is more permanent than an “emergency” mandate.

  20. Big police state Republicans like Desantis are basically fascists.

    1. People who engage in street violence to pursue racial grievances are basically Nazis.

    2. How about the cops in dc that shoot people in the face?

  21. “The “cyberintimidation by publication” component essentially gives government officials a “heckler’s veto” over the publication of critical information about them online and encouragement for public reaction by claiming it has created a “reasonable fear of bodily harm.” It will most certainly be used by law enforcement officers to attempt to force censorship of images and videos of them online engaging in what people might see as violent or abusive behavior.

    A small-government Republican, DeSantis is not.”

    “Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy.”
    ~ Orson Welles

  22. It is easy for me to understand why this bill was written and passed. After over a year of ‘mostly peaceful demonstrations’ in places where dems are in charge a lot of folks are fed up with it. Too many times LEOs (sometimes at the behest of the pols who control them) did nothing to prevent arson, looting, imposing hardships on regular peeps going about their own business, blocking streets and interstate preventing cars from using them, doxed pols and LEOs they did not like, and defunded and removed LEOs; the result an exploding crime rate and economic hardship for regular peeps.

    On the other side the pinko commie creeps made heroes of sketchy at best (and often life long criminals addicted to drugs) to justify their mostly peaceful protests. Truth be told I expected more and harsher responses than this.

  23. https://twitter.com/MrAndyNgo/status/1383325472579211268?s=19

    Breaking: #Antifa in Portland have set the downtown @Apple store building on fire. There was security staff there. The business had only recently reopened following months of nightly rioting. The store also turned itself into a BLM memorial. #PortlandRiots

  24. https://twitter.com/JackPosobiec/status/1383241450129813509?s=19

    BREAKING: Minneapolis to close all public schools next Wed-Fri in anticipation of Derek Chauvin verdict

  25. https://twitter.com/MarinaMedvin/status/1383129186336960517?s=19

    ???? Breonna Taylor’s mom calls BLM a fraud, rages against them for claiming they’re helping the family when BLM has done NOTHING for Breonna’s family. [Pic]

  26. https://twitter.com/AliceTeller/status/1383189085011988484?s=19

    Equality means that these folks don’t even need hoods. [Link]

  27. https://twitter.com/MrAndyNgo/status/1383329412972568580?s=19

    Oakland, Cal.: #Antifa rioters smash up buildings and start fires. #AntifaRiots [video]

  28. https://twitter.com/LisaBennatan/status/1383242918996025350?s=19

    Altercation breaks out between police and protesters as protesters were walking through diners #WashingtonDC [video]

  29. https://twitter.com/BGOnTheScene/status/1383256835818328072?s=19

    Melee at Logan Square Park as police clash with the crowd in the streets here at the end of tonight’s protest for Adam Toledo #Chicago #AdamToledo #ChicagoPolice [video]

  30. Down here in Florida, we like Gov. DeSantis, for a lot of reasons. All he’s doing is countering “peaceful protesters” with “peaceful law enforcement.” See what I did there?

  31. Does the statute make it explicit that a motorist’s running over a “protester” who blocks his escape is “justifiable homicide”?

  32. Excess all cause mortality last year pretty closely matched deaths attributed to Covid ie about 500k.

    sure, if you believe CDC generated numbers; which of course is all we’re allowed to believe because criticising covid orthodoxy gets you a time out from social media…

    but it’s moot in any case, because we all know from experience that a federal agency would never lie to us in order to buttress a preferred outcome…

  33. Relevant:

    https://twitter.com/wokal_distance/status/1383874779120209927?s=19

    Mainstream journalism now just a mixture of hit pieces, surveilance, and digging up dirt on normal people for not being woke enough

    It’s a privately owned digital panopticon staffed by 23 year old humanities majors getting high on bullying people and calling it “accountability” [link]

    “A Utah paramedic donated to the defense fund of Kyle Rittenhouse. It was first reported in the @guardian this morning.
    Rittenhouse is accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha, WI.
    I tried to get the paramedics side of things. See the story tonight at 10p on @abc4utah. [Picture of said paramedic at his front door]”

  34. https://twitter.com/JackPosobiec/status/1383903055993741316?s=19

    First responders require military escort in Minneapolis like it’s Kandahar [link]

  35. “It’s absolutely absurd, and certainly a violation of separation of powers in Florida, for the governor’s office to attempt to seize control of budget allocation for a municipal police department at the request of the state attorney who works the area. It’s literally the executive branch attempting to seize control of the funding of executive branch activities.”

    Two points:

    1: Local governments are total creatures of the state, unless the state constitution says otherwise. (I don’t believe Florida has home rule built into its constitution, but I could be wrong about that.)

    2: The executive branch controlling executive branch spending, with the explicit authorization of the legislature, is hardly a separation of powers issue.

    1. And given that large cities’ police usually answer to a Democrat Party mayor and City Council, I don’t see this as unusual.

      Did the left throw a fit when Eisenhower took control of the Arkansas National Guard from Faubus? I don’t see that as being functionally different here.

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  37. So what about the anti-riot law. I wish the author would focus more on the federal level and the unconstitutional laws that is being done through executive order by the Biden Administration. The reason we are in this pickle today is because the Democrats do not follow nor do they uphold the laws. The anti-riot laws passed in Florida was because the idiot Demoncrats purposely flouted the laws of the other states to allow rioting. Put the blame where it should be. Florida will work out their laws through the Court system. As far as the U.S. Supreme Court, they are useless. They cannot even back up election laws passed by the individual states. If the ACLU fights this in Florida, throw them in jail or burn them at the stakes. They are useless as well.

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