After multiple Cuban protests across the state of Florida made their way to the streets and highways, Governor DeSantis was questioned about the protesters who were breaking the anti-riot law.
At a news conference on Thursday, DeSantis alluded that the Cuban protesters broke the law but were not arrested because of the peaceful nature of the protests.
The Florida Capital Star recently reported about the arrests of two protesters in Tampa who were charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and taking part in an unlawful assembly blocking streets and sidewalks.
DeSantis stated, “We can’t have that. It’s dangerous for you to be shutting down a thoroughfare, you’re also putting other people in jeopardy. You don’t know if an emergency vehicle needs to get somewhere and obviously it’s just disrespectful to make people stand in traffic.” He defends his stance by saying that it was illegal to block traffic “way before HB 1” and is something that “they are not going to tolerate.”
Describing the protests, he said, “There is nothing wrong with doing peaceful demonstrations, and HB 1 had nothing to do with peaceful … Cuban-Americans who were out demonstrating at Versailles, they’re not violent, those aren’t riots. They’re out there being peaceful and they’re making their voice heard, and we support them and their ability to do that.” Versailles is a famous Cuban restaurant in Miami that hosted a massive protest for Cuban rights earlier this week.
State Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-63) criticized the response. Driskell said, “It’s clearly hypocritical because the First Amendment gives us the right to free speech and assembly. It’s content-neutral, it doesn’t matter what it is you’re protesting … To pretend that what’s happening now is different than Black Lives Matter protests is a fiction.”
In response to the notion that the law has been applied with a double standard, Desantis said, “The people understand the difference between peaceably assembling … and attacking other people or burning down buildings or dragging people out of a car.”
While this is the newest criticism of DeSantis and his actions regarding the enforcement of HB 1, the law has been challenged by Democrats since Republican lawmakers began writing it. Currently, the bill remains in a legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which filed the lawsuit the day it was signed.
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Casey Owens is a contributing writer for The Florida Capital Star. Follow him on Twitter at @cowensreports. Email tips to [email protected]