ORLANDO, Fla. – A social justice group has filed a lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others two days after the Republican signed a bill to create tougher penalties for people who participate in violent protests.
The nonprofit group Legacy Entertainment & Arts Foundation filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Orlando federal court, according to court records. It argues the new law violates First Amendment protections for free speech, Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and 14th Amendment protections of due process.
“The breathtaking scope of the Bill includes granting civil immunity to people who drive into peaceful demonstrators if such demonstration blocks a road, prevents people accused of ‘rioting’ from bailing out of jail until after their first court appearance, increases penalties for assaulting law enforcement officers while engaging in a ‘riot,’ penalizing local governments that interfere with efforts to stop a 'riot,' and allows law enforcement agencies that face funding reductions to file objections,” the complaint stated.
DeSantis spokesman Cody McCloud said the governor’s office hasn't yet been served in the case but will firmly defend the legal merits of the new law, which McCloud said protects businesses, supports law enforcement and ensures punishment for those who cause violence.
The so-called anti-riot bill that DeSantis signed on Monday was a response to nationwide demonstrations that occurred in the wake of George Floyd's murder. Most of the protests against racial injustice were peaceful, but some turned violent. After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, Republicans pushing the legislation used it as an example to support the effort.
Opponents of the bill said it was a racist reaction to a problem that hasn’t occurred in Florida. They saw it as an attempt to squash the voices of groups like Black Lives Matter.
The new law enhances penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. It allows authorities to hold arrested protesters until a first court appearance and establishes new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
It also strips local governments of civil liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement’s efforts to respond to a violent protest and adds language to state law that could force local governments to justify a reduction in law enforcement budgets.
It also makes it a second-degree felony to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events. That would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.