How Florida’s New ‘Anti-Riot’ Law is Unconstitutional

By: NIAH MADIGAN

On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new ‘anti-riot’ bill, making it a law. According to the Orlando Sentinel, he praised it as “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country” during a news conference before signing the bill. But legal experts have criticized the law, calling it unconstitutional and filing a federal lawsuit.

Because the law does not specify what is and isn’t “rioting”, it criminalizes constitutionally protected speech and makes it easy for police to target Black and brown protestors. Kara Gross, the legislative director at the Florida ACLU, spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about the law. “…it captures anybody who is peacefully protesting at a protest that turns violent through no fault of their own,” she said. Gross also said that the penalty is a third-degree penalty that can result in up to five years in prison.

A brief summary of several provisions of the bill according to Law360 and the Miami New Times are as follows:

•“Unlawful assembly. When three or more people meet to commit a breach of the peace or to do any other unlawful act, it is a second-degree misdemeanor.

• Committing a riot. A person is guilty of the third-degree felony of committing a riot if they willfully participate in a violent public disturbance involving three or more people, acting with a common intent to assist each other in violent or disorderly conduct, resulting in injury to another person, damage to property, or imminent danger of injury.

• Aggravated rioting. A person is guilty of the second-degree felony of aggravated rioting if, in the course of committing a riot, they participate with at least 25 other people; cause great bodily harm to someone not participating in the riot; cause property damage of more than $5,000; display, use, threaten to use or attempt to use a deadly weapon; or endanger the safe movement of a vehicle traveling on a public street or highway.

• Obstructing streets. It is a pedestrian violation for a person to willfully obstruct the normal use of a public street or highway.

• Damaging historic memorials or property. It is a third-degree felony to willfully deface or damage a memorial or historic property when the damage exceeds $200 in value. Offenders must pay the full cost of repair or replacement.

• Intimidation intended to change viewpoint. It is a first-degree misdemeanor for a person, assembled with two or more other people acting with common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force to induce another person to maintain or abandon a particular point of view against their will.

• Cyberintimidation. The bill makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to electronically publish another person’s personal information with the intent for a third party to use the information to incite violence, commit a crime or harass the person.”

An Orlando civil rights attorney has also filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Orange County Sheriff John Mina on Wednesday. “The purpose of these laws are nothing more than an attempt to silence the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil organizations by limiting the ability to protest,” Aaron Carter Bates said on behalf of the Lawyers Matter Task Force. “The First Amendment is a pillar of American democracy, and the ‘anti-riot’ laws clearly strip Floridians of their freedom of speech and right to assemble.”

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