Florida governor proposes felony charges for violent protesters

The legislation also aims to hold back state money for municipalities that want to defund the police. 

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The state of Florida is cracking down on people who engage in violence and vandalism during demonstrations. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced new legislation on Monday (Sept. 21) that calls for mandatory jail time for those who physically assault law enforcement officers, and felony-level penalties for anyone who causes injury or destroys public property during a protest. 

The bill also prevents violent agitators accused of crimes from gaining employment in the state or receive state benefits, according to Politico. Additionally, it would be a misdemeanor to harass patrons at restaurants during a demonstration. 

“You see these videos of these innocent people eating dinner and you have these crazed lunatics just screaming at them and intimidating them,” DeSantis said. “You’re not going to do that in the state of Florida.”

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DeSantis said individuals who lay hands on cops during a protest will be jailed for a mandatory minimum of six months. 

“We’re not going to go down the road that other places have gone. If you do it, and you know that a ton of bricks will rain down on you, then I think people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct,” he said. 

The bill is being hailed by conservatives for its support for law enforcement. 

“This is a very robust package,” the governor said. “I think what it is saying is we’re not going to let Florida go down the road where some of these places have gone.”

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, call the bill a desperate stunt to help Trump’s re-election bid. 

“The governor is attaching himself to Donald Trump’s propaganda and manufacturing a non-existent law and order crisis in Florida,” said Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson. “It’s political fearmongering to bolster a president’s re-election bid.”

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Kelly Benjamin, a Tampa activist and co-founder of Tampa for Justice also questions the governor’s motives.

“The right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. This is an attempt to chill legitimate dissent and somehow equate protests against police killing Black people with criminal activity despite the clear evidence that the protests occurring in Florida are overwhelmingly peaceful,” said Benjamin. 

The legislation also aims to hold back state money for municipalities that want to defund the police. 

“We need to do more in terms of a strong legislative response so we do not always have to play whack-a-mole any time you have situations like this develop,” DeSantis said.

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