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'Anti-riot' bill meant to confuse, discourage peaceful protesters, State Rep. Omari Hardy says

Police Benevolent Association spokesman says legislative will protect officers
Posted at 5:25 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 17:42:51-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida lawmakers seem poised to approve a bill that some critics say will discourage protesting.

Protests over George Floyd's death occurred in the summer of 2020 in almost every city.

Weidmayer Pierre, 20, was a big part of protests in West Palm Beach.

He now wonders about the future of demonstrations in Florida as state Republicans, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, seem united in passing one of the most restrictive laws on public protesting.

The bill, advertised by the governor as, "the strongest anti rioting, pro-law enforcement reforms in the nation," would increase penalties on those who turn to violence during protests.

State Rep. Omari Hardy
State Rep. Omari Hardy believes the bill is the first step in creating a police state.

The controversial bill has drawn very distinct lines among opponents and supporters

State Rep. Omari Hardy, D-Lake Worth Beach, who took part in some Black Lives Matter marches last summer, said the bill gives authorities the ability to charge all protesters if violence breaks out or property is damaged.

"All the things covered in this bill are covered under criminal law. What this bill does is muddy the waters and is meant to confuse peaceful protesters and discourage them from going out to protest," Hardy said.

John Kazanjian of the Police Benevolent Association said the bill protects police.

John Kazanjian of the Police Benevolent Association in Palm Beach County
John Kazanjian of the Police Benevolent Association in Palm Beach County believes the bill will protect police officers.

“We saw in New York these rioters they dropped off a pallet of bricks just to throw at police. They dropped off cases of ice water to throw at police officers. We were targeted," Kazanjian said. "Now these rioters will think twice especially in Florida."

Kazanjian said he supports peaceful protesting, and Pierre said any new law won't stop him.

"I'm not going to step back. I feel like nobody should step back. This is your first amendment right," Pierre said.

"I think the bill is a first step to creating a police state," Hardy said.

Given the advantage of Republicans in the capitol, the bill is almost assured of passing. However, Democrats say it likely will be challenged as unconstitutional.