FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Deputies in a South Florida county are being instructed not to enforce an anti-rioting law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
When it is deemed necessary, the decision must run it up the chain of command before taking action, according to an internal memo obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Col. David R. Holmes, the Broward County Sheriff's Office's executive director of law enforcement, emailed district captains Wednesday to say the anti-rioting law threatened to diminish the sheriff’s office’s attempts to connect with the community.
The sheriff’s office doesn’t need “any overzealous deputies utilizing the new law to conduct enforcement that could violate people’s civil liberties,” Holmes said in the email.
The so-called anti-riot law that DeSantis signed last week 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.
A nonprofit group last week filed a lawsuit in federal court in Orlando, challenging the new law.
Opponents of the law 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.