(Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Jul 14, 2021
A coalition of civil rights groups on Wednesday filed a motion in a Florida federal court seeking to block the state's recently enacted anti-protest law--which critics say targets racial justice demonstrators while letting right-wing protesters off the hook.
"We use protest as a vehicle for change and not only does this law silence our voices, but it puts our lives in danger."
--Nailah Summers, Dream Defenders
The ACLU of Florida, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), and Community Justice Project (CJP), with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP serving as counsel, filed a motion for preliminary injunction (pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in a bid to block parts of H.B. 1, the so-called "anti-riot" bill introduced in the wake of last year's Black Lives Matter protests and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in April.
The injunction was filed on behalf of Dream Defenders, the Black Collective, Chainless Change, Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, and the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville.
"Among other things, the law risks criminalizing peaceful protest, shields those who injure or kill protestors (for example by ramming their vehicles into protestors) from civil penalties, discourages people from protesting, and otherwise infringes on First Amendment rights," the organizations filing the motion said in a statement. "The law was passed as a direct response to racial justice protests in 2020, and appears designed to target those who protest against police violence."
\u201cBREAKING: We've filed a motion for preliminary injunction with @ACLUFL and @cjpmiami to block key portions of Florida's anti-protest law, H.B.1. The law risks criminalizing peaceful protest and provides a shield for those who kill or injure protestors. https://t.co/OMA85sSiXt\u201d— Legal Defense Fund (@Legal Defense Fund) 1626286821
Critics argued that H.B. 1's civil legal immunity provision endangers lives and would have protected the neo-Nazi who murdered anti-racism protester Heather Heyer with his car in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.
The same groups that filed Wednesday's motion also sued DeSantis and other state officials in May over H.B. 1.
"This law has changed the landscape for what it means to organize and create safer conditions for our communities in Florida," said Nailah Summers, co-executive director of Dream Defenders, in a statement. "Protest has always been a vital tool for accountability for our public officials. We use protest as a vehicle for change and not only does this law silence our voices, but it puts our lives in danger."
"H.B. 1 is a punitive and unjust law created to silence communities, but protect vigilantes."
--Krystina Francois, The Black Collective
Krystina Francois, co-founder and board member of the Black Collective, said that "H.B. 1 is a punitive and unjust law created to silence communities, but protect vigilantes."
"Black Floridians deserve more than a law that continues to suppress their voices," asserted Francois. "Our constitutional right to assemble peacefully and demand justice from a society that would rather criminalize us than uplift our quality of life is necessary."
Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, said that "H.B. 1 targets Black organizers, and their allies who stood up courageously to say 'Black Lives Matter!'"
"We protested against police brutality and against social, racial, and economic injustice," Frazier continued. "The enactment of H.B. 1 has frightened peaceful protesters from exercising their constitutional right to assemble and protest. Many of our supporters have declined to participate while expressing a fear of unfair arrests by law enforcement officers and the fear of potential bodily harm by vigilantes."
"The First Amendment, which guarantees our rights to voice our demands, is being muffled, strangled, and suffocated," he added. "H.B. 1 is undemocratic legislation that has stifled our constitutional rights by obstructing the activity of Black community organizers. H.B. 1 must be repealed, abolished, or simply outlawed."
Underscoring what critics of H.B. 1 say is the law's discriminatory intent, the editors of the Miami Herald on Tuesday published an editorial decrying the hypocritical leniency shown to Cuban-American demonstrators and their supporters who blocked a Miami expressway on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with anti-government protesters in Cuba.
\u201cFL Gov. DeSantis created an un-American anti-riot law in the wake of George Floyd demonstrations. It makes blocking a highway a federal offense, but the law hasn\u2019t been enforced among other protests. It was created as a means to target Black people! https://t.co/RJGFdhrAVo\u201d— Ben Crump (@Ben Crump) 1626291061
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "Police encouraged people to disperse--to no avail." People at "SOS Cuba" demonstrations in Tampa and Orlando also blocked major thoroughfares and ignored police orders to disperse.
There were no arrests reported at the Miami protest. Three men were reportedly arrested in Tampa for assaulting or resisting officers, while one man was reportedly arrested in Orlando for disorderly conduct. There were no reported arrests for violations of H.B. 1.
Addressing DeSantis' dodging of reporters' questions about the uneven application of H.B. 1, the Herald editors wrote: "Honestly, we would have been more impressed if he had just responded: 'Nah, the Miami-Dade demonstrators seeking human rights in Cuba have nothing to fear from my anti-riot law. We created it to subdue Black folks seeking human rights in the United States.'"
\u201c"Let\u2019s be clear here, the only thing that changed ... are the demands and who is organizing them. When it was Black Lives Matter, DeSantis vowed to throw the book at them ... when it was Cubans, it became politically inconvenient to enforce the same law."\n https://t.co/xHdv14zHHk\u201d— Arturo Dominguez \ud83c\udde8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf2 (@Arturo Dominguez \ud83c\udde8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf2) 1626274493
Writing for Latino Rebels, Thomas Kennedy said: "Let's be clear here, the only thing that changed in terms of the protests are the demands and who is organizing them. When it was Black Lives Matter protests, DeSantis vowed to throw the book at them and condemned them profusely but when it was Cuban protestors, it became politically inconvenient to enforce the very same law he advocated for months ago."
We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.
We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.
Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.