On Thursday, a judge halted parts of a Florida law Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), has cast the Florida law Gov. as an anti-rioting measure. He argued that the laws definition of "riot" is too vague and could threaten peaceful protestors with harsh criminal penalties.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami on July 13, 2020. Getty Images
The Key Facts
Federal Judge Mark Walker issued an injunction prohibiting DeSantis, and other county sheriffs listed as defendants, from enforcing laws defining riot. He sided with activist groups that sued Governor Walker four months ago. Walker criticized a section of Walker's law that defines a "riot participant" as someone who willfully takes part in violent public disturbances involving at least three people who cause injury or property damage. Walker stated that this definition could be in violation of the First Amendment because it would ensnare people who were present at violent protests but did not actually engage in violence. He also said that his preliminary injunction does not prohibit law enforcement agencies from applying the law. Forbes was informed by DeSantis' office that it strongly disagree[s] the decision and intends to appeal the ruling at the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a joint statement, the plaintiffs applauded this decision: "The law effectively criminalizes our constitutional rights to peacefully protest and places anyone, particularly Black, at risk of unlawful arrest or injury and even death," they wrote.
The lawless actions by a few individuals could criminalize protected speech of hundreds of law-abiding Floridians if the Court doesn't enjoin their enforcement. Walker stated that this is a violation of the First Amendment.
Although we disagree with today's decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was going to decide this case, DeSantis office stated. There is a distinction between peaceful protests and riots, and Floridians don't want to witness the chaos and violence that riots can bring to their communities.
DeSantis signed the law in April. It outlines strict penalties for participating in violent protests and blocking roads. DeSantis suggested a bill to punish unruly protests last spring, citing the nationwide protests against police misconduct last summer that included violence. Opponents of this bill have criticized it, arguing that Florida's new law will penalize peaceful protesters and that police already have legal recourse against violent criminals. The Florida law was one of several Republican-backed bills that targeted some protesters.