POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed the “boldest and most comprehensive” legislation Monday that addresses violent assemblies and attacks on police officers.
DeSantis said the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act is in response to the nationwide violence that has stemmed from police brutality protests.
The governor says the bill lays out “clear and predictable penalties” for those in Florida who participate in violent assemblies. It categorizes several demonstrations seen at riots across the country as felonies.
Under the proposed legislation, participating in violent assemblies would be a third degree felony. Tearing down or destroying monuments would be second degree felony. Obstructing roadways would be a third degree felony.
Local Black Lives Matter advocates quickly denounced the bill and vowed to protest it.
They said it focuses on the result of the turmoil, not the cause of it, which they believe is police brutality.
“It’s obvious that the governor is sending a message that he does not care about the issues today. I think this is going to spark a controversy and it’s not going to sit well with the African-American community,” said Carl Soto, Vice President of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk.
“The blocking of the streets was what opened the doors for us in the 60’s. Those streets are not owned by the police. Those are the citizens’ streets. We pay for those streets,” said Pastor Clayton Cowart with the Poor and Minority Justice Center.
Pastor Cowart argued the bill prioritizes monuments over people.
“Is a 75-year old statue more important than a human life?” he asked.
DeSantis said the bill would also allow the state to withhold state funding to local municipalities that ‘defund’ their police departments.
“We are not going to permit localities to defund the police,” DeSantis said. “If you defund the police, then the state is going to defund any grant or aids coming to you.”
Also at the press conference was Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. He expressed great appreciation toward DeSantis for his support of law enforcement.
“You have no idea, governor, how proud we are of you just being here and saying we’re going to introduce this legislation, just being here and saying you’re going to support us,” he said.
In typical Grady Judd fashion, the sheriff brought cue cards to help illustrate the difference between peaceful protests and a riots and looting.
“If you loot, the next thing you can try to steal is something for your food tray in the county jail,” Judd said. “Because you’re going to jail. That’s a guarantee.”