Civil rights advocates have filed a joint lawsuit against Florida’s recently enacted “anti-riot” law, which they claim was designed to target Black protesters.
The law, as LegalReader.com noted earlier this month, was supported by Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that the lawsuit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and the Community Justice Project.
“The law targets Black protesters and their allies who demand racial justice and has already slowed protest activity among Black organizers in Florida,” the lawsuit states.
The law—also known as H.B. 1—was passed after Black Lives Matter and other racial equality protests swept the nation, many in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. According to the plaintiff groups, Florida legislators pushed their bill despite knowing that the “majority of protests” were peaceful.
H.B. 1 creates a set of new criminal penalties for protesters, and enhances existing penalties for persons who partake in certain actions amidst a protest.
Critics of the law have said that people who are peacefully protesting may face criminal prosecution of a small minority of their compatriots are acting dangerously.
For example, the law suggests that peaceful protesters could be charged if they are in “close proximity to an act of violence or property destruction in which they themselves do not participate.”
“Because (a section of the law) confers discretion to law enforcement to arrest nonviolent protesters in close proximity to a violent outburst that is caused by others, would-be protesters have already been and will continue to be discouraged from participating in demonstrations for fear that the intents and actions of others may subject them to severe criminal penalties,” the lawsuit says.
NAACP organizers have said that the law does nothing other than stifle the voices of Black people, who may feel that protests pose the best chance for the voices to be heard.
“A protest is the voice of the unheard,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches and Youth Units. “For decades, Black and Brown people have taken to the streets to make their voices heard. H.B. 1 is filled with criminalization and civil rights disenfranchisement aimed at Black and Brown Floridians.”
“Rather than look for ways to support these constituents, Governor DeSantis’ priority legislation is designed only to harm them. Peaceful protests will continue to speak for the many,” Nweze added.