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DeSantis' anti-riot law faces (and flunks) a key test in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) anti-riot law intended to punish those who block highways. Then his partisan allies blocked a highway - and went unpunished.


In the spring, Republican-led states considered a variety of anti-protest measures, designed to punish and discourage those who might take to the streets to dissent. No state, however, went further than Florida.

As we discussed in April, under the law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), if someone feels intimidated by three people, that may constitute "mob intimidation," which can be punished by up to a year behind bars. Those who topple monuments now face up to 15 years in prison.

And if protesters block a road, the Republican law not only makes that a felony, it also extends civil liability protections to Florida drivers who plow into them, claiming self-defense.

"Just think about it, you're driving home from work and, all of a sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway," the governor said at the bill signing. "And we worked hard to make sure that didn't happen in Florida."

Except, it did happen in Florida, just this week. The Washington Post reported:

Scores of people crowded a major Miami-area highway Tuesday, chanting in support of rare protests that erupted days earlier in Cuba against the country's communist government. The rally caused an hours-long closure on part of the Palmetto Expressway in Miami-Dade County.

For now, let's put aside the question of what these protesters hoped to accomplish by shutting down a major highway. Instead, with DeSantis' anti-riot law in mind, the more obvious question is how these protesters were punished under the new Florida statute -- designed specifically to "make sure" people can't shut down highways.

The answer is that they weren't punished at all. There were no citations. No arrests. No fines. DeSantis said in April "there needs to be swift penalties" for protesters who deliberately block roads, and this week, there were no penalties at all.

Asked for some kind of explanation, the GOP governor said those who blocked the highway were "going out and peacefully assembling." He added that protests in support of Cubans are "much different" from the Black Lives Matter protests that inspired the state Republican law.

I suppose there's some truth to that: Black voters in Florida tend to vote Democratic, while Cuban-American voters in Florida tend to vote Republican. As such, they're "much different."

It's hardly a stretch to think the governor was reluctant to criticize those who shut down a Miami highway this week because those activists are part of a GOP voting bloc he'll need during his re-election campaign next year.

The editorial board of the Miami Herald concluded, "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.'"