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Sunday, August 01, 2021

Gainesville activists travel to Tallahassee to speak out against Gov. DeSantis’ protest bill

If passed through the state legislature, activists say it will unjustly criminalize protestors

<p>Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at Halifax Health Medical Center Sunday, May 3, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Business owners across much of Florida were busy Sunday preparing to reopen Monday under new restrictions. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s deliberately taking things slowly during re-opening. (AP Photo/John Raoux)</p>

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at Halifax Health Medical Center Sunday, May 3, 2020, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Business owners across much of Florida were busy Sunday preparing to reopen Monday under new restrictions. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s deliberately taking things slowly during re-opening. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Karine Dieuvil heard about Florida House Bill 1 – a bill that could drastically reform state protest laws – and knew she had to speak out. 

The 20-year-old UF third-year acting and MBA student was one of more than 69 people who attended the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee meeting Wednesday to protest the bill. She and other activists spoke for one minute each. Despite the majority of public comment voicing opposition on the floor, the bill passed the subcommittee 11-6.

A bill must be introduced to the Florida House and the Senate by a sponsor, then referred to committees and subcommittees for approval. After it's voted on by the full House and the Senate, it will be sent to the governor who can either sign or veto the bill. At any stage in the process, a bill can be rejected. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ House Bill 1 would increase criminal penalties for participating in a “riot,” defined as a “tumultuous disturbance of the peace by three or more people.”

It would create a mandatory six-month sentence for battery committed during a riot, and create a new “mob intimidation” criminal statute, making the act a first-degree misdemeanor, according to a report from The Miami Herald. 

The bill would also make it a felony to pull down “any memorial,” which some say is a nod to the movement to remove Confederate statues. Also, it would criminalize doxxing or making someone’s personal information public.

Dieuvil said she believes the legislators had Black Lives Matter protests in mind when drafting the bill, but the Washington insurrection earlier this month allowed them to strip it of party affiliation.

House Bill 1 has garnered mass attention. Celebrity and Florida native Ariana Grande encouraged her followers to speak out in opposition.

One proponent was Barney Bishop III, former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. Bishop spent his time at the meeting praising the bill and dismissing those in dissent as a “vocal minority” who don’t represent the majority of Floridians.

“What we’ve witnessed today is a lack of respect for authority and an utter failure of the public education system,” Bishop said of those who disagreed. “This is no infringement of the constitutional right of anybody. Peaceful protests are not going to be hurt by this bill.” 

Miami state Republican Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin sponsored the bill. After originally being proposed by DeSantis in Sep. 2020, the bill was reintroduced to both the Florida House and Senate Jan. 6 following the Washington insurrection.

“At the end of the day, members, we have to strengthen our laws when it comes to mob violence to make sure that individuals are and unequivocally dissuaded from committing violence when they are in large groups,” Fernandez-Barquin said during the hearing.

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Dieuvil said she can’t imagine the toll it would take on protestors to be charged harshly, especially those with children who could lose their jobs. Despite the bill being approved, she was glad to see a strong showing of opposition. 

“Connecting with people is how we build solidarity and how we mobilize people power so we can influence change,” Dieuvil said. 

Manu Osorio also spoke against the bill at the meeting. As lead organizer of GoDDsville Dream Defenders, the local chapter of an organization founded after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Osorio often attends and organizes protests in Gainesville.

“It’s trying to fit Black Lives Matter protesters into a mold of rioters and looters,” Osorio said. “It discourages average people from taking to the streets and standing up for what’s right.”

Osorio said after the death of George Floyd in May, she attended the Gainesville protest where a man with a gun drove through a crowd of protestors and later had six charges of aggravated assault dropped by former State Attorney Bill Cervone. If this bill is passed, she believes people who attend rallies will be criminalized more than the man was. 

House Bill 1 will also be voted on by the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee. An identical bill, Senate Bill 484, was filed in the Senate Jan. 6, which will be voted on by the Florida Senate Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, the Criminal Justice Committee and the Appropriations Committee.

Contact Alan Halaly at ahalaly@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @AlanHalaly.

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Alan Halaly

Alan Halaly is a first-year journalism and Spanish major and the East Gainesville Beat Reporter. This is his second semester on staff, and he previously worked as a news assistant on the Metro desk. He's excited to use this semester to shine a spotlight on underserved communities in Gainesville.


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