Opinions mixed after arrest of high-ranking Florida Democrats during abortion protest

'Sometimes good trouble is necessary,' Florida Democrats Chair Nikki Fried says
Posted at 7:36 PM, Apr 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-04 19:36:49-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Political stunt or political action? Opinions are divided after Monday night's dramatic arrest of two high-ranking state Democrats, protesting a new abortion ban that's making its way through the Legislature.

In what's now a viral video, viewers can see the new chair of the Florida Democrats, Nikki Fried, and Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, getting arrested by Tallahassee police outside City Hall.

Authorities said in a statement they acted after multiple warnings, dating back to Friday.

Along with nine others, law enforcement took Fried and Book to a county facility and charged the group with misdemeanor trespassing before releasing them later in the night on their own recognizance. The group had been holding a "sit-in" protest across the street from the state Capitol, opposing a six-week abortion ban that's nearing Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk and expected signature.

"What is it John Lewis used to say?" Fried said in an interview with us Tuesday. "Sometimes good trouble is necessary."

Fried, who is also the former Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, considered six weeks a near-total ban on abortion. She, like many Democrats in the Legislature, worries women will turn to unsafe options as many may not know they are pregnant until too late.

"If it means us raising the temperature and the level of engagement and awareness of what is happening here in the state of Florida — the supposedly 'free' state of Florida — it was worth it," Fried said.

Critics have pointed out her party posted fundraising tweets during the arrest. It has Florida Republicans calling the protest "a classic political stunt." Florida GOP Chair Christian Ziegler is among them. In his eyes, what happened was a photo op.

"It's really all the Democrat party has," Ziegler said. "I mean, they can do stunts. They can't win elections. They can't register voters. The Democrat Party is just decimated in the state of Florida."

Lawmakers back at the Capitol were mixed on what happened. House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner kept things generic when asked Tuesday afternoon about the arrests.

"I don't know what the circumstances of that were," Renner said. "I don't know if they wanted to get arrested for reasons they might see as advantageous."

Democratic colleagues saw things differently. House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell called the arrest an "inspiring moment."

"I just think that any attention that we can draw to this really bad policy is a good thing," she said. "Peaceful attention, right?"

Either way, Fried and Book now face separate court dates in the coming weeks. The chair, meanwhile, vowed not to let up on the issue.

"We're going to continue to be loud until we start making these changes and watch this pendulum swing back to the middle," Fried said.

In Florida, misdemeanor trespassing convictions can get you probation or up to 60 days in jail, plus hundreds of dollars in fines.