MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Charles Zelden is among the experts in South Florida who questioned the motivation behind Gov. Ron DeSantis' proposed legislation to impose felony penalties on vandals during protests.
Zelden is a professor of history and political science at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County. He said the timing of the announcement — when the Florida Legislature’s 60-day session doesn’t begin until March — plays to the pre-existing attitudes of both Democrats and Republicans.
Zelden said Republicans who support President Donald Trump’s re-election in November will likely feel like DeSantis' proposal is a good idea. But Democrats who believe there is already suppression, he said, will likely feel like it’s a horrible idea.
“It’s gasoline on a fire to make it burn hotter,” Zelden said about DeSantis proposal.
Since the protests were not as violent in Florida as they were in other parts of the country, critics accused DeSantis of fabricating a crisis to help Trump with his law and order campaign. There are 29 electoral votes on the table in Florida.
Attorney David Weinstein agrees with the possibility and questions the practicality of such legislation. Prosecutors are already able to charge protesters for damaging property, for hurting police officers, and for blocking traffic during protests.
Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor, said the proposal isn’t breaking any new ground. He said DeSantis is “amplifying” statutes that already exist.
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“If you are driving a vehicle and you are fleeing, in your mind, from a ‘mob’, or for your own safety, this legislation would allow you to escape liability for injury or death. That draws my mind to what happened up in #Charlottesville.” -@DavidSWeinstein #SoundOn ▶️ https://t.co/NjGgtfvy0Q pic.twitter.com/m0IMYXUC2t— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) September 22, 2020
For @DavidSWeinstein - a bigger concern relates to the wording: “It is very likely to be found to be unconstitutional as applied because it is going to create a subjective standard for determining what is ‘violent’ or ‘disorderly’.” #SoundOn ▶️ 👇 https://t.co/YnEivY5NQQ pic.twitter.com/SHtpbAoZvC— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) September 22, 2020
“This is playing politics,” says @CharlesZelden, especially since protests in Florida were largely peaceful he added. “This is kind of a law looking for a purpose, other than the purpose of looking good politically.” #SoundOn ▶️👇 https://t.co/NjGgtfvy0Q pic.twitter.com/VX6bdCfSGg— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) September 22, 2020
From a political science perspective, @charleszelden makes reference to the timing of the announcement - happening in a critical swing state - close to the election - in a highly polarized environment. “If anything it is gasoline thrown on a fire to make it burn hotter.” #SoundOn https://t.co/Lpd6uDqQ3w pic.twitter.com/HBAzfIDH5y— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) September 22, 2020