| April 1st, 2021
Anti-Protest Bill ‘HB1’ Infringes on First Amendment Rights
By: Heaven Jones
Sunday, May 3, 2020, reeked of heat, fresh sharpie and the inside of a KN95 mask. Residents of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. televisions played on a constant loop of Channel 10 local news as they shared Sunday meals. COVID-19 updates drowned out by upbeat chants screaming, “NO JUSTICE! NO PEACE! NO RACIST POLICE!” suddenly turned into bone-chilling screeches. This was the sound of yet another peaceful protest gone wrong.
“We were able to get a significant amount of people out that day. Around 2,500 people attended and it was largely peaceful,” said CJ Staples, the Broward Dream Defenders lead organizer. “We ran from 3-6 pm that Sunday afternoon and shortly after we ended, we were essentially bombarded with police aggression. People were trying to go back to their cars and go home but as we were leaving the parking garage, we saw the rush of police, squad cars and tanks rushing towards the park.”
The murder of George Floyd sparked universal outrage similar to the death of Trayvon Martin. LaToya Ratlieff was one of the many protesters who not only risked her health but unknowingly her life to combat police brutality and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Ratlieff drew national attention for being shot in the face by a cop with a rubber bullet that day at Huizenga Park.
With several protests ending in brawls, injuries and arrests, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to implement the Anti-Protest Bill, also known as HB-1 or SB-484. Essentially designed to promote public safety in the state of Florida, the bill, in turn, condones acts of violence and hinders First Amendment rights.
Through this bill, anyone in the state of Florida who participates in a protest of any sort could be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony. This means that those who choose to raise their voice will be silenced and at risk of losing their right to vote and serve the penalty equivalent to that of someone charged with sexual assault.
“I as well as others have put in a lot of work to fight against this bill and I just can’t explain how angry I am,” said Delilah Pierre, Vice President of Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC). “Having to sit in committee meetings where this bill that is going to kill organizers and activists is being pushed forward shows me how corrupt Florida legislature is.”
TCAC is a local Tallahassee organization dedicated to fighting for peace, justice and equality through direct action. The organization has supported many progressive campaigns that range from LGBTQ+ rights to abolishing police brutality. Currently combating Asian American hate in the nation, TCAC continues to stand in solidarity with those whose voices continue to be suppressed.
“As an organization that has protested against police brutality and thinks that protesting is a fundamental right of being a human as well as something that is inscribed in our constitution (not that they care about that), we are letting the Republicans do exactly what they’re setting out to do, which is make it impossible for any kind of beset to exists,” said the TCAC Vice President.
Throughout history, the fight for racial equality has received pushback from not only governing bodies but also those who fund those same officials and their policies. When the right to speak out on injustices leads to a cycle of unjust murders and lives lost in the prison system, who do the silenced turn to?
“When a community feels pain, when people have an elbow or knee on their neck when people feel oppressed, they cry…they cry out,” said Florida Representative Kevin D. Chambliss. “There is a responsibility for those who they are crying out to, to figure out what the pain is, not to put them in more pain.”
Representatives like Chambliss have stood by their communities to pass bills in favor of justice for the citizens of Florida. Many traveled as far as the Capitol to speak at events like “Raise Your Voice,” a march organized by Tallahassee Dream Defenders to stop regressive legislation.
“We listen, we investigate what is going on, we identify the root of the problem and when we see that it is an injustice, we create laws, we create bills we adjust budgets to make sure the injustice is addressed, rooted out and justice prevails,” said Rep. Chambliss. “That is what we are brought here to do.”
Officials have been doing everything from town halls via Zoom to organizational briefings and the efforts seemed to not be enough, resulting in the passing of HB1 on Friday, March 26.
“The police are the aggressors. When they see you organizing or doing any action, their goal is to repress you. They arrested 14 activists here in Tallahassee and sent out a warrant to arrest four more,” said Pierre. “All they care about is suppressing Black people and doing it in the fastest way possible.”