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DeSantis’ Proposed Bill Limiting Protester Protection Receives Push Back

By Micah-Simone Durrant 

On Sunday, Feb. 21, the Community Action Committee (CAC) gathered outside of the Tampa Police Department to protest Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-riot” bill. If passed, this bill would crack down on violent protests and protect law enforcement. 

Although Gov. DeSantis said in a press release that, “our right to peacefully assemble is one of our most cherished as Americans,” many believe that this bill violates First Amendment rights. 

“To me and so many other people, this is a very clear crack down on free speech and constitutional rights that really only came up because [Gov. DeSantis] was afraid of the movement for justice for George Floyd,” said William Blake, former University of Tampa student and CAC member. 

The “anti-riot” bill is formally known as the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act. Gov. DeSantis proposed this bill in September following the wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests over the summer in Florida, as well as worldwide.

Following these protests emerged the “defund the police” movement which aims to reduce and reallocate funds from police departments across the U.S. 

The proposed bill directly addresses this movement by stating that state grants or aid to cut police funding are prohibited. 

However, the defunding of law enforcement in Tampa is one of the CAC’s main goals. They push for community control of the police which would allow for oppressed people to decide how they are policed. 

A major concern that Blake has with the bill is that it states that drivers are not liable for injuring or killing protesters when fleeing a mob. 

”This will greatly weaken any sort of movement for police accountability,” said Blake. 

Furthermore, if this bill were passed, it would prohibit protesters charged with a crime in relation to violent or disorderly gatherings from posting bail until they appear in court. 

Over the summer, a common way for supporters of the BLM movement to demonstrate their solidarity was by donating to efforts to bail protesters out of jail. 

“If [police] deemed, for example, the protest we were at this week unlawful because they thought it was getting too rowdy or loud, we would be in jail for more than a month until we got our first hearing,” said Blake. 

At UT, however, Campus Safety coordinates with student affairs and additional stakeholders in the event of an on-campus protest. 

The UT student handbook states that it is recommended that students register their on-campus protests by submitting a protest/demonstration form.

Ian McGinnity, director of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement, said the university, “encourages and supports the First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly.” Adding that the purpose of preregistering protests is “so students can receive guidance and support for a successful protest or demonstration.” 

The Office of Student Leadership and Engagement also works in collaboration with Campus Safety staff to ensure students can successfully protest while maintaining the safety of the campus community, property, and operations, according to McGinnity.

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