Pointing to that photograph, he said: “This is a riot. This will get you locked up before quick in the state of Florida. We got a new law, and we are going to use it if you make us.”
Judd spoke Monday in Winter Park, Fla., alongside many of the state’s top Republicans to herald the signing of Florida’s controversial new “anti-rioting” law, which enacts a sweeping series of new crimes and penalties that make it easier for police to clamp down on situations of unrest.
Civil rights groups and Florida Democrats have blasted the law as a violation of the First Amendment right to protest. For instance, they say, someone could participate in a demonstration that becomes violent — without partaking in any violence themselves — and face felony charges due to the behavior of others around them.
“The goal of this law is to silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets to march for justice,” Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement slamming the “outrageous” law. “It should not be a crime to exist in public space, yet that’s exactly what Gov. DeSantis has done.”
Supporters and detractors alike may not have to wait long to see the law in action: With a verdict imminent in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, cities around the country are bracing for the possibility of widespread unrest — on the scale that erupted after Chauvin killed George Floyd last May.
At the news conference Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called the new law “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country.” Given that the law is now in effect, he noted that Florida was “prepared” for whatever verdict emerges in the Chauvin trial.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he added at the news conference. “But I can tell you that case was bungled by the attorney general there in Minnesota. They didn’t handle it properly. And so there may be people disappointed.”
The governor, a close Trump ally, said he was inspired to pursue the expanded measures — one of the top legislative priorities — after witnessing the massive unrest that shook the country last summer, though he acknowledged most of the racial justice protests in Florida following Floyd’s death were relatively tame. Neither DeSantis nor his allies mentioned the deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, led by a pro-Trump mob, when signing the bill.
“We made a promise to Floridians,” said state House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R). “The promise was that we were not going to allow Florida to become Seattle. We were not going to allow Florida to become Portland.”
Among the new crimes spelled out by the sweeping measure are “aggravated rioting,” a felony, and a “mob intimidation,” a first-degree misdemeanor in which three or more people use violence or the threat of it to change someone’s views. Lawmakers said the measure, which is punishable by a sentence of up to one year, comes in response to viral incidents in which crowds of protesters would confront diners eating at outdoor restaurants.
Other existing misdemeanors, such as blocking the highway during a demonstration, have been bumped up to felonies. Anyone in Florida arrested in certain riot-related crimes will not be able to post bail until their first court appearance, and anyone convicted of a felony under the law — as is standard in Florida — could lose their right to vote.
The law also increases protections to those responding to demonstrations, granting civil legal immunity to drivers who run through crowds of protesters, and ramps up consequences of property damage during moments of unrest. Confederate monuments and other historic property receive additional protection, while anyone whose property is damaged during a riot can sue the local government.
It also clamps down on efforts to “defund the police,” allowing state attorneys and city commissioners to appeal local decisions to reduce local police budgets up to the governor’s office, where those moves can be sent for further review.
At a separate news conference on Monday, state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D), who is Black, said the bill would particularly target Floridians of color who have led and participated in many of the racial justice demonstrations around the country over the past year.
“Our response to injustices in this country is protests,” he said, “but their response is to criminalize it when their recourse for us is to turn to the streets, to make our voices heard in this unjust system.”
But Judd, who also warned the flock of pandemic newcomers to Florida not to “vote the stupid way you did up north,” said the law was necessary to protect the state’s reputation as a family-friendly tourist destination.
He pulled out another photo — this one, a composite of a smiling child next to a Mickey Mouse impersonator, alongside shots of the beach and a boat trip.
“This is what we enjoy in Florida. This is the Florida we know and love,” he said. “This is what all of these law enforcement officers and administrators and sheriffs and police chiefs and their officers do every day.”