By KARL BELIN
After sweeping through the Florida Senate along party lines, HB 1, the so-called “Anti-Riot” Bill, landed on Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk on April 15 with the governor’s assurance that he would quickly sign the bill into law. The ever-cynical DeSantis chose April 20—the date of the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd, the flashpoint for the anti-racist rebellion, which prompted pearl-clutching Florida Republicans to put forward the legislation. Surrounded by smug, self-satisfied cops, DeSantis cited a video in which protesters confronted racist hecklers, who shouted anti-Semitic slurs at activists, as an example of the kind of “lawless behavior” the new law was designed to combat.
Reminiscent of Antebellum slave insurrection acts or Jim Crow laws against public gatherings, the Florida law represents the single greatest attack on free speech rights in nearly a century and is specifically directed against the Black Lives Matter movement. It is worth noting that HB 1 was filed in the Florida House on Jan. 6, the same day that the Trumpist mob attacked the United States Capitol. There is something to be said for the impeccable timing of these reactionary swindlers. We leave it to our readers to decide just what that is.
The provisions of the new law aim to hinder the efficacy of popular protest. By creating new felony classifications for acts such as marching on a highway, a popular and effective tactic in both the Black Lives Matter and labor movements, these reactionaries hope to cut off oppressed and working-class people at the knees. Those arrested for using such tactics can now be held in police custody and denied bail until first appearance, which can sometimes take several weeks. Those convicted of “aggravated rioting” could face six months or more in prison.
Such transparent attempts to remove leading activists from the struggle have not been lost on the working people of the state. Increased civil penalties can be used to strip activists of their right to vote if convicted. Defacing symbols of racial oppression such as Confederate flags and monuments will now likewise be classified as second-degree felonies, carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. New misdemeanor categories have also been established, for acts as petty as a group of three or more people shouting at a political opponent, defined under the new law as “mob intimidation.”
However, further provisions now safeguard Proud Boys, Nazis, and other reactionary forces of all stripes who violently attack protesters. Drivers who plow into demonstrations in the streets would be granted civil immunity protections should they cause injury or even death to marchers.
So-called “small government” Republicans have also limited the powers of cities and municipalities across Florida with their new anti-protest law. Local governments are now prevented from taking measures to defund the police in their own communities, concentrating even more power in the hands of the state government in Tallahassee. The extent of their “small government” ethos starts and stops with eliminating regulations on business and industry or protections for workplace organizing.
In defiance of the law, mass rallies are planned this weekend in cities such as Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Miami to protest the cop murders of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and most recently (on the day of the Chauvin verdict!), Ma’Khia Bryant, a 15-year-old Black girl in Columbus, Ohio. The workers and the oppressed will not be silenced! A long, hot summer approaches in America and Florida promises to be scorching.
Photo: Miami cops attacked a protester last year. (Cristóbal Herrera/ EPA via Shutterstock)