Media Contact

ACLU of Florida Media Office, 

September 21, 2020

Measure would criminalize protesters and city governments demanding police accountability

MIAMI, FL — In response to protests in Florida demanding police accountability and transparency, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced today a bill that would mandate harsher criminal penalties against protesters exercising their First Amendment right to protest, as well as automatically detain people pretrial without bond and change the presumption from pretrial release on non monetary conditions to a presumption of no bond. His proposal would also prohibit local municipalities from reallocating law enforcement service budgets and threaten to withdraw state funding from those who seek such reforms. Additionally, it would allow counter-protesters who recklessly drive into protests injuring or killing individuals to escape liability.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, responded with the following: 

“Gov. DeSantis’ proposal is undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values. This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement. 

“The Constitution firmly protects protests even when – and especially when – they challenge government policy, and express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Instead of acknowledging and addressing police brutality and violence in our state, Gov. DeSantis wants to use his power to throw more people into the criminal legal system by enacting overly harsh criminal penalties for protesters who are exercising their constitutional right to take to the streets and demand justice. Under the guise of protecting public safety and residents, this proposal would deny fundamental due process to protesters by eliminating their right to bail. Instead of addressing the violence protesters in cities across the state have been subjected to at the hands of law enforcement, Gov. DeSantis is doubling down on his disdain for dissent. This is not what democracy looks like. 

“Local governments and their residents have every right to reallocate their budget to reflect the needs and values of their communities. This proposed bill would punish local communities for addressing how best to use taxpayer dollars in their communities by divesting from overly funded police departments and investing resources back into other much-needed community resources and services. Just because the governor refuses to address racial injustice and police brutality, does not mean local governments must follow suit. Enacting such an oppressive mandate would be a gross overreach. 

“America’s policing institution is broken. Throughout his tenure in office, Gov. DeSantis has ignored and undermined the will of Florida voters. This is yet another instance where, rather than listening to Floridians, Gov. DeSantis has chosen to respond to this moment by proposing an undemocratic and unconstitutional bill that would chill free speech and instill fear into people who have been fighting against injustice. This proposed bill is fundamentally hostile to American values. Protesting is, and always has been, an indispensable part of our democracy’s history. We will fight any bill that violates the First Amendment.”