MIAMI – “All of a sudden you have people out there shutting down a highway. They start to do that, there needs to be swift penalties.”
Those were Gov. Ron DeSantis’ words back in April when he signed a controversial anti-riot bill.
“I think people understand the difference between going out and peacefully assembling, which is obviously people’s constitutional right,” DeSantis said on a day when South Floridians stood in solidarity with Cuban citizens’ protests by taking to the Palmetto Expressway and closing it down for hours.
What’s happening here is politics colliding with practice.
The anti-riot law was one of several championed by DeSantis appealing to his conservative base in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests — a law now being broken by the governor’s own supporters, and on roads under state jurisdiction.
“They are in violation of the law, but you have to have patience. Tou cant come out here and arrest everybody,” Joe Sanchez of the Florida Highway Patrol said.
On Tuesday, FHP let the highway shut down happen.
And our cameras saw at Miami-Dade officer actually wave people through the police line to the highway ramp.
In June 2020, FHP blocked Black Lives Matter protesters from getting on I-95. When they did — for minutes, not hours — no one was arrested here either.
“However the law is applied in Miami-Dade County, it needs to be applied consistently across the board,” said Stephen Johnson of the Miami-Dade Black Affairs Advisory Board.
The 61-page law covers a variety of measures against mob violence and destruction, some of it open to interpretation. The component making road blocking illegal, though, is clearly cut and dry.
Here’s the section of #Florida ‘s Combating Public Disorder Law— Glenna Milberg (@GlennaWPLG) July 14, 2021
(aka anti-riot act) that makes blocking roadways illegal. Some of the wide-ranging 61-page law can be open to interpretation, but this is pretty clear👇🏼
(Ps As with all laws, police may use discretion)@WPLGLocal10 pic.twitter.com/1eVcSn2cWK
“A precedent has been set, and we are going to have to live with that precedent,” Johnson said.
In Tampa, two people at a similar rally Tuesday were arrested under the law for allegedly battering law-enforcement officers.