Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced a proposal that elicited aggressive criticism from Democrats in the state. His “anti-mob” legislation would expand the state’s “stand your ground” laws to protect Floridians from prosecution if they needed to defend themselves or their property from rioters and looters.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, “The draft legislation put specifics behind DeSantis’ pledge in September to crack down on ‘violent and disorderly assemblies’ after he pointed to ‘reports of unrest’ in other parts of the country after the high-profile death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.”
Also from the Times:
“The proposal would expand the list of “forcible felonies” under Florida’s self-defense law to justify the use of force against people who engage in criminal mischief that results in the “interruption or impairment” of a business, and looting, which the draft defines as a burglary within 500 feet of a “violent or disorderly assembly.”
Other key elements of DeSantis’ proposal would enhance criminal penalties for people involved in “violent or disorderly assemblies,” make it a third-degree felony to block traffic during a protest, offer immunity to drivers who claim to have unintentionally killed or injured protesters who block traffic, and withhold state funds from local governments that cut law enforcement budgets.”
Critics of the proposal claim that it would allow armed residents to shoot suspected looters or individuals engaging in “criminal mischief” that disrupts a business.
“It allows for vigilantes to justify their actions,” said Denise Georges, a former Miami-Dade County prosecutor told the Times. “It also allows for death to be the punishment for a property crime — and that is cruel and unusual punishment. We cannot live in a lawless society where taking a life is done so casually and recklessly.”
After DeSantis made the announcement, his office distributed a draft version of the bill, which was titled, “anti-mob legislation draft” — to the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. The bill was also sent to the state’s House Judiciary Committee.
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren slammed the governor for proposing the measure. “This whole effort is political theater,” he said. “We already have the tools we need to prosecute people who create unrest and violence, and Florida has largely kept that kind of behavior in check, which is why it seems like this is just about putting on a political show. For real security, for everybody, we need to balance ideas about punishment with a real look at what’s driving this tension.”
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a former federal prosecutor, also took issue with the proposed legislation. “It’s clear that the Trump beauty pageant is still going on with governors and senators, who all want to be the next Trump,” he said. “And the governor is clearly a very good contestant.”
Gelber continued, arguing that the draft bill “sounds like an invitation to incite violence.”
Others raised more substantive criticisms. Reid Rubin, a retired Miami-Dade homicide prosecutor, pointed out that expanding the list of “forcible felonies” to include crimes that result in “interruption or impairment” of a business is seemingly vague. He noted that it could result in unnecessary violence.
“Any number of things could occur. ‘Interruption or impairment’ to what degree? You could have people who are peacefully assembling who go in and out of a store — and a store owner or even a passerby could get nervous and misinterpret something and think they have the right to use unnecessary physical force — or even deadly force,” Rubin told the Tampa Bay Times.
Former Miami-Dade prosecutor Aubrey Webb argued that the legislation would give “armed private citizens power to kill as they subjectively determine what constitutes ‘criminal mischief’ that interferes with a business.” He added, “Someone graffiti-ing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a wall? Urinating behind a dumpster? Blocking an entrance?”
State Attorney Warren argued that Florida already has laws on the books that protect those who are defending themselves and their property. “We need to be incredibly careful when we expand laws that give ordinary citizens the power to kill someone without any due process. Busting out a window or breaking into an empty store should lead to an arrest and criminal consequences by law enforcement professionals—not Wild West vigilantism that puts more people in harm’s way,” he said.
While some are raising reasonable concerns about DeSantis’ proposed legislation, it seems that others are simply more interested in protecting rioters and looters than they are in ensuring the safety of law-abiding citizens. When the state legislature takes up the measure, they can fine-tune it in a way that does not allow random shootings based on thin suspicions.
The state’s “stand your ground” laws have already been under much scrutiny over the years, so if this bill makes it to the legislature, there will be a lively debate on the matter. But either way, it is essential that the law protects the right of a citizen to defend their property from rioters, looters, and other criminals.
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