It’s official: Ron DeSantis has figuratively humiliated Florida throughout the world. Tuesday saw the release of a report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that included a mention of Florida House Bill 1, the repressive anti-protest law that the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, had championed.
The 18-member committee, which included a representative from the United States, stated in its report that it is “concerned about reports of increasing legislative measures and initiatives at the state level that unduly restrict the right to peaceful assembly in the wake of anti-racism protests in recent years, such as the HB1 Combating Public Disorder law in Florida.”
In response to demonstrations against police brutality that erupted in the summer of 2020, DeSantis passed HB1 into law last year. Republicans intentionally selected violent episodes to depict all anti-racist demonstrators as dangerous and to undermine their cause in an effort to divert the national conversation away from racism. The Florida statute, which its proponents refer to as “anti-riot” legislation, results from right-wing alarmism.
Anyone who “willfully participates in a violent public disturbance involving an assembly of three or more people” is subject to punishment, according to the legislation. It’s a dangerously broad bill that was written that way on purpose. According to how it is written, it allows anyone in disguise—including anarchists—to attend an antiracist demonstration and purposefully cause hurt or damage, possibly drawing peaceful demonstrators into a criminal investigation.
Florida civil rights organizations have been warning about the dangers of using the law to intimidate and quiet demonstrators for more than a year. Ben Frazier, the founder of the Jacksonville-based civil rights organization Northside Coalition, was requested to give testimony before the U.N. committee in Geneva earlier this month in anticipation of the report due on Tuesday.
Several judges have backed the bill’s opponents’ claims as well. A federal judge halted significant portions of the measure last year, including its expanded definition of what constituted a “riot,” on the grounds that they were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker stated in his decision that “if this Court does not enjoin the implementation of the statute, the illegal actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively penalize the free speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians.”
DeSantis and his team filed an appeal, but the court judge hearing it expressed such disdain for their justifications that he questioned if they really comprehended them. “Don’t you think there’s an issue with your hypothesis because you’re having trouble explaining to me what the statute says?” During a court hearing in March, U.S. Circuit Judge Edward Carnes questioned Florida’s deputy solicitor general. According to a representative for DeSantis responding to the U.N. committee’s report, only the citizens of Florida have “any effect on the governance.”
Of course, Floridians were the ones who informed the committee about HB1. DeSantis is the same person who campaigned to have a voter-passed amendment that would have allowed millions of individuals with criminal convictions to vote invalidated. Additionally, he pressured state lawmakers to approve a racially biased congressional redistricting plan put up by his own office, enabling him to consolidate power in the state and possibly the nation.
It is obvious that he and his crew are not interested in serving the needs of voters alone. Regardless, the U.N. committee’s report is the most recent indication that the oppressive practices of DeSantis’ Florida are being noticed internationally. He brought his country into the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
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