A bill introduced Monday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis regarding the ongoing protests against racism and police violence would all but provide an incentive to inflict harm on people participating in those demonstrations, critics say. The Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act “creates new criminal offenses and increases penalties for those who target law enforcement and participate in violent or disorderly assemblies,” DeSantis tweeted on the same day he introduced the controversial new legislation.
On the surface, the bill seemingly takes steps to protect the police. But a deeper look at the Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act revealed language that could be interpreted as inciting violence against protesters, many of whom have been marching as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In particular, under the first part of the bill that is devoted to “new criminal offenses to combat rioting, looting and violence,” there is a section that addresses protesters who obstruct roadways. Those found to be guilty of doing so could face 3rd-degree felony charges. In addition, however, any driver who just happens to hit protesters obstructing a roadway “is NOT liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.”
In other words, drivers who claim they feared for their safety and hit or run over protesters — described as being part of a “mob” — will not face any criminal charges.
The African American Policy Forum said the bill sends “as loud a signal as possible that [DeSantis] is okay with, and would even encourage, anyone who wants to use their car or truck to mow down BLM protesters.” The nonprofit think tank dedicated to dismantling structural inequality added: “We should not understate how dangerous this is.”
Protesters have increasingly taken to highways and other major thoroughfares to block traffic in an effort to bring attention to social justice causes. However, in some instances, drivers have rammed protesters with their vehicles. That was the case in Seattle in July when a protester was killed on Interstate 5 after she was intentionally hit by a car.
However, it was also important to note that there have been multiple instances of police vehicles ramming protesters across the country, many times violently. The NYPD has been especially guilty of doing this.
There was no mention of that possibility in DeSantis’ bill, which also increased penalties for striking a police officer and prohibits state grants to groups working to defund the police.
This is America.