MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Tampa Bay supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have strong criticism for Florida’s anti-riot law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) this week.
BLM held a rally with roughly 40 people in attendance Wednesday night in Bradenton in front of the Manatee County Courthouse. Organizers told NewsNation affiliate WFLA they invited numerous city and county leaders, who did not attend.
BLM supporters were frustrated by the absence, but admit their goal was to have one person, in particular, hear their message loud and clear.
That person was not invited, but organizers hope the passionate speeches they gave will travel all the way to the state capital, Tallahassee.
One mom told the crowd she hopes Gov. Ron DeSantis is listening. Then, she had this message for him.
“I’m coming for your job,” said Natasha Clemmons. “That’s my message to him.”
That message was repeated with passion and fervor over and over again throughout the rally. One by one, people approached the microphone to share their anger and frustrations.
“This will stop or I will die trying,” Clemmons added.
BLM wants the governor out of office, along with his anti-riot bill described as racist by those in attendance.
“Let him know that we’re not afraid and we will fight back. We are not afraid to go to jail,” Clemmons told a cheering crowd.
The bill was signed in response to nationwide demonstrations that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Most of the protests against racial injustice were peaceful, but some turned violent. After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, Republicans pushing the legislation used it as an example to support the effort.
Gov. DeSantis says this bill has swift and immediate penalties, including felony charges, for protestors who encourage unrest in a riot by inciting violence in a crowd.
“This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished,” The Associated Press reports DeSantis said in a statement.
BLM maintains the bill unfairly targets minorities, a claim supported by the ACLU.
“We did not need this bill. We can see it for what it is. It is a racist bill. Instead of giving the Black community justice, he’s looking to criminalize protestors,” Ruth Beltrain said.
Natasha Clemmons agrees.
“I’m afraid for my own life. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. Who in the hell is Gov. DeSantis that he can just come up with these orders and laws so that we can’t protect ourselves?” Clemmons said.
The Manasota chapter of Black Lives Matter says members have been informed that a rally may take place in Tampa this weekend. If that rally does happen, members from this chapter will travel to Tampa to show support.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit group Legacy Entertainment & Arts Foundation filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Orlando federal court, according to court records. It argues the new law violates First Amendment protections for free speech, Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and 14th Amendment protections of due process.
“The breathtaking scope of the Bill includes granting civil immunity to people who drive into peaceful demonstrators if such demonstration blocks a road, prevents people accused of ‘rioting’ from bailing out of jail until after their first court appearance, increases penalties for assaulting law enforcement officers while engaging in a ‘riot,’ penalizing local governments that interfere with efforts to stop a ‘riot,’ and allows law enforcement agencies that face funding reductions to file objections,” the complaint stated.
DeSantis spokesman Cody McCloud said the governor’s office hasn’t yet been served in the case but will firmly defend the legal merits of the new law, which McCloud said protects businesses, supports law enforcement, and ensures punishment for those who cause violence.
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The new law enhances penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. It allows authorities to hold arrested protesters until a first court appearance and establishes new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
It also strips local governments of civil liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement’s efforts to respond to a violent protest and adds language to state law that could force local governments to justify a reduction in law enforcement budgets.
It also makes it a second-degree felony to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure, or other objects that commemorate historical people or events. That would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WFLA contributed to this report.