What Florida Bill HB1 Means for Protesters

By: Andrea Johnson, Red Phoenix Correspondent Florida

On April 19 of this year, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1 (HB1) into law. Make no mistake, HB1 is the most authoritarian and legitimately fascist law that has ever been passed in Florida legislature. The linear movement of this bill like clockwork through the state house, senate, and then the Governor’s office removed completely the mask of Constitutional values and personal liberty from Florida Republicans, who currently dominate all branches of Florida state government. No longer can they strip away funding for social programs and infrastructure under the guise of “smaller government allows for more personal freedom,” because they have now gone out of their way to oppress a freedom guaranteed by their sacrosanct document. The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution very clearly offers citizens the right to peacefully assemble, and Florida state legislature has decided to outline specifically what a “peaceful” protest looks like through HB1 to suit their agenda.

The whole goal of HB1 is to give cops a license to kill anyone deemed undesirable to the state. The bill is formally entitled “Combating Public Disorder,” and is a direct response to the mass protests hosted by Black Lives Matter and allied organizations in Summer 2020 to protest police brutality, systemic racism in the judicial process, and prison slavery. HB1 includes the following clauses:

1. “Prohibiting a person from willfully participating in a specified violent public disturbance resulting in specified damage or injury.” First and foremost, HB1 tells you it’s automatically illegal for you to simply even participate in a protest determined to be a “specified violent public disturbance.”

2. “Authorizing specified elected officials to file an appeal to the Administration Commission if the governing body of a municipality makes a specified reduction to the operating budget of the municipal law enforcement agency.” This allows the Florida legislature to overturn decisions made by local government to decrease police funding, because people shouldn’t be allowed to have control over their communities.

3. “Providing that a municipality has a duty to allow the municipal law enforcement agency to respond to a riot or unlawful assembly in a specified manner based on specified circumstances.” This means local governments can be sued for civil liability damages by businesses or individuals who have their property damaged in a protest.

4. “Reclassifying the penalty for an assault committed in furtherance of a riot or an aggravated riot.” This gives police discretion on who to charge with a third degree felony for simply participating in any protest police deem a “riot.” Officially, a riot is defined as when someone “willfully participates in a violent public disturbance involving an assembly of three or more persons, acting with a common intent to assist each other in violent and disorderly conduct, resulting in Injury to another person; Damage to property; or Imminent danger of injury to another person or damage to property.”

5. Creates a phenomenon called an “aggravated riot,” which is a riot with more than 25 people or when protest participants cause “great bodily harm or more than $5000 in damages,” or when a protest involves a deadly weapon or blocks a roadway by force. If found in violation of this, police can charge protestors with a second degree felony.

6. Adds additional charges for smaller unlawful behaviors that may happen during a protest – including second degree felony for demolition of historic property (read: Confederate statues).  

7. “Prohibiting cyberintimidation by publication.” Prevents doxing of cops.

8. “Creating an affirmative defense to a civil action where the plaintiff participated in a riot, etc.” This shields counter-protestors who kill protestors with their vehicles from civil liability.

9. Prevents people jailed for any unlawful behaviors related to protesting from posting bail.

Intellectually, I understand that if we’re going down the right path, enemies will try to stop us. But it was still so jarring to have such bold legislation made into law. I followed this bill every step of the way, and after each signature, and every vote in favor, people would still assure this bill was dead in the water. Last year was built on the strongest moments of class solidarity America has seen in a long time, and now those in power are responding. Our collective power is inherently threatening to the state, so of course they would illegalize our collective action.

“This feels like the first footfall of similar legislation yet to come in other states, and how broader America reacts to increased authoritarianism will play an important part in how the left organizes itself in the future.”

Additionally, HB1 emphasizes the double standard that currently exists in our society where destruction of property is considered unacceptable, illegal violence, but withholding lifesaving services from people in need is not. Florida, along with six other states in the southeast, continue to deny funding offered to them by the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage to Florida residents. How many more children could have had medical appointments this year if Governor DeSantis had chosen to make healthcare expansion his legislative priority in the spring session instead of HB1?

There will almost certainly be legal challenges to every part of this bill, and parts of it may even be overturned by higher courts in a few years. But until then, these laws are extremely dangerous to those of us fighting for a better way of life, especially for BIPOC, neurodiverse, and queer people. Organizers in Florida must plan future actions with caution as we test these new boundaries. The safety and wellbeing of the comrades in our communities is the top priority. This feels like the first footfall of similar legislation yet to come in other states, and how broader America reacts to increased authoritarianism will play an important part in how the left organizes itself in the future.

Categories: U.S. News

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