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Are Cuban American protests on I-95 breaking Florida's new 'anti-riot' law?

Gov. Ron DeSantis calls this week's demonstrations 'fundamentally different' from 2020 protests
Cuba protesters on Miami's Palmetto-Expressway, July 13, 2021
Posted at 2:27 PM, Jul 14, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida's controversial new "anti-riot" law is facing some serious questions after demonstrations in Miami and West Palm Beach closed busy freeways Tuesday.

The law, HB 1, was passed during Florida's recent legislative session and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis following last summer's protests after the murder of George Floyd.

The new law punishes protesters who take part in violent and disorderly demonstrations in Florida along with commandeering highways.

There is a specific section of the new law that says people are in violation if they "willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road" by "impeding, hindering, stifling, retarding, or restraining traffic."

It goes on to say that a pedestrian "endangering the safe movement of vehicles" "shall be cited" and face punishment.


When he signed the bill into law in April, DeSantis said the state wasn't going to allow "the mob win the day" and "Florida takes public safety very seriously."

During a roundtable discussion held Tuesday in Miami, the governor was asked if he thought the people who blocked traffic on the Palmetto Expressway should be arrested.

DeSantis said this week's demonstrations were "fundamentally different" from the 2020 protests in support of police reform after Floyd's killing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a roundtable discussion in Miami on protests in Cuba on July 13, 2021
Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a roundtable discussion in Miami on protests in Cuba on July 13, 2021.

"People [last summer] were burning down buildings, looting, breaking windows, targeting law enforcement," DeSantis said. "I think that people understand the difference between going out and peacefully assembling, which is obviously people's Constitutional right, and attacking other people."

A social justice group filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and others two days after the anti-riot bill was signed into law.

The Florida Highway Patrol issued a statement on Twitter after Tuesday evening's rally closed southbound Interstate 95 near the Okeechobee Boulevard exit for about an hour.

The FHP said people blocking traffic not only are breaking the law but also endangering both them and other members of the public.

It's unclear if anyone was cited for Tuesday's demonstrations in Miami or West Palm Beach.

Overall, the rallies in South Florida since Sunday have been peaceful with no reports of looting or violence against police.

Motion filed to block portions of law

Civil rights groups filed a motion Wednesday to block what they call "key portions" of HB 1, saying the law risks criminalizing peaceful protests and shields people who injure or kill protesters.

Senate Democrats also sent a letter to Attorney General Ashley Moody asking for clarification on the "anti-riot" law.

The letter stated that they are thankful that the "anti-democratic measures in HB1 have not been weaponized against peaceful protesters."

It goes on to say they believe it's critical for every Floridian to be treated equally.

Social justice activist David Rae said he hopes all demonstrators will be treated fairly. He believes the answer is not division.

"At some point we have to stand in solidarity and say, 'We are all in this together, going through this together.' When one member of our community is going through these types of pains, it's about all of us," Rae said.