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DeSantis: Nothing Close to as Tough as New 'Anti-Riot' Law

It includes stricter punishments, and protections for drivers who hit protesters
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2021 4:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial anti-riot bill Monday that will more strictly punish people who take part in protests that turn violent. The timing coincides with the wrapping up of Derek Chauvin's trial in the death of George Floyd, and DeSantis referenced that case, saying the Minnesota attorney general bungled it and that Florida is "prepared" for what might come as a result. "There may be people disappointed," he noted, per the Orlando Sentinel. DeSantis called the bill the "strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country. There's just nothing even close." Speakers present at the bill’s signing said the law would protect against violent unrest; critics say it tramples protesters’ First Amendment rights. Among other things, the law grants civil legal immunity to people who drive into crowds of protesters who are blocking a street.

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People who are at a protest but aren’t violent "can be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony and face up to five years in prison and loss of voting rights, Kara Gross, legislative director at ACLU Florida said, calling the language "overbroad" and the bill's intent "to instill fear." Shevrin Jones, a Democrat in Florida’s state senate, called the bill "racist at its core," per ABC News. Jones said DeSantis claims the bill is preparation for riots like ones in Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle, but pointed out "the governor made no mention of the Jan. 6 insurrection" at the US Capitol. The bill also makes it a second-degree felony, with the possibility of a 10-year prison sentence, to destroy a memorial or artifact commemorating historic events or people. (Read more Florida stories.)

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