At the end of the legislative session in Florida this past spring, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the now infamous HB1 bill. HB1, also called the “Combating Public Disorder Bill,” was created in direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the political protests for racial justice that occurred across the nation. At the press conference announcing the bill, Governor DeSantis cast those protests as violent, chaotic events, full of “disorder and tumult,” where “buildings [were] in flames.” Tellingly, though, 94% of Black Lives Matter protests were in fact peaceful. The actual “public disorder” these uprisings surfaced was less protestors behaving badly, and more the deep, pathological racism embedded in virtually every aspect of life in the United States.
HB1 consists of “a very robust package” of laws designed to suppress political protest. HB1 creates new crimes and penalties for protestors, often employing vague and overly-capacious terms and definitions that will almost certainly lead to arrests for the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights. It provides for the arrest of people engaged in “riots,” but largely leaves it to police to interpret whether a given gathering involves a risk of “imminent danger of injury to another person or damage to property.” HB1 insulates individuals who harm or injure protestors from potential civil liability, providing civil immunities to people who use their vehicles to plow into protestors, at the same time as it creates potential civil liability for municipalities who take a more lenient approach than their city police departments towards protests.