Susan Bro, mother of activist slain in Charlottesville car attack, discusses Florida’s controversial anti-riot bill

Race in America

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new anti-riot law he calls the strongest pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country, creating tougher penalties for participants in violent riots.

Part of the bill also gives civil immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road, meaning those drivers would be less liable under the law.

The law was created in response to the nationwide demonstrations and riots following the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes in May 2020. A jury convicted Chauvin in the death of George Floyd Tuesday.

Florida’s new law has drawn a lot of attention, including criticism from social justice groups in Florida.

Susan Bro understands the devastation of violence at protests. Her daughter, Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist, died when James Alex Fields Jr, an avowed white supremacist, drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters at a Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017.

Fields Jr. is currently serving two life sentences for that attack.

While Bro says this law wouldn’t have applied to her daughter’s case since the road was blocked off already by police, she does believe it sets a dangerous precedent.

“My question would be if you’re putting open season on protesters, what weapons are you gonna draw the line at? Are you going to say baseball bats can be used… and no civil liabilities for that? Are you gonna say guns can be used and no liability for that? I mean, where do you draw the line?”

She clarified she understands that the law was drafted to allow criminal charges still but criticized it for not leaving as much discretion for courts in these cases.

“I just wonder how this bill goes in saying it’s open season on protesters,” stated Bro.

When asked about the need for a law like this, Bro also questioned why states like Florida and Oklahoma are considering such a strong response when they don’t have significant protests.

“Well, the last time I saw a lot of cracking down on protests, I believe I was a young child. And those were what we called race riots. There were protests over the Vietnam War. It seems to me that the only time people want to crack down on protests is when they’re doing things they shouldn’t be doing in the first place.”

She added, “I was not aware Florida had a need for such a heavy anti-riot law or needed to protect their Confederate monuments.”

Since Heyer’s death, Bro has been advocating for legislation that provides resources to communities to count hate crimes accurately.

“I tell people you don’t take your child to the doctor and not get a list of symptoms. You don’t take your car to the mechanic and not get an assessment of what’s wrong with the car, so why have we as a country been wildly throwing money and resources toward hate crime, and we don’t really know how many we have,” said Bro.

It passed the U.S. Senate as a part of the larger hate crimes bill intended to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans.

“I didn’t expect [it to pass] for years frankly,” said Bro.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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