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Democratic lawmakers denounce public disorder bill filed by GOP on day rioters stormed U.S. Capitol

Rep. Geraldine Thompson speaks during an online press conference on January 11.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson speaks during an online press conference on January 11.

Florida Republican lawmakers filed a bill Wednesday to crack down on violent or disruptive protests, saying the bill, titled Combating Public Disorder was in response to mobs in Washington, D.C.

But in a press event Monday, Democratic lawmakers said the bill is really meant to silence and intimidate people of color.

Gov. Ron DeSantis promised the bill after protests against police brutality.

It is wrong to conflate the summer’s protests with the “violent insurrection and treason” at the Capitol, Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer said.

"These are two separate things," Farmer said. "They should not be conflated or combined. And in fact we do not need this statute as it would infringe upon the rights of people to peaceably protest."

The bill increases penalties for crimes at a violent protest, makes it a felony to damage a monument, penalizes cities for cutting police funds and more.

The Democrats denounced the astonishing “lack of empathy” for Florida's largely peaceful protesters and said the state already has laws against violence and property damage. 

The bill is about maintaining power, said Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Windermere, citing Lake County's decision to reject a Confederate statue.

"That would not have happened," she said, "had it not been for bottom up protests and people peacefully assembling, non-violently, so that the leaders would have to listen. That's what this is all about."

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.