Dozens of activists gathered along Central Avenue in St. Petersburg on Saturday, January 23, rallying in the streets against the fascist policies introduced by Ron Desantis and the Florida Legislature this past September.
As the events of 2020 influenced a rise in social discontent, the working-class still suffers from the long term effects of income inequality, food scarcity, and unaffordable healthcare. In response to Floridians across the state demanding an end to police brutality and the reallocation of police departmental budgets to social programs, Desantis has decided to shut down First Amendment rights to nullify opposition.
Even as the Biden Administration squanders its first days in power, Ron Desantis continues to target activists vocal about the state’s attack on civil rights. HB1 and Senate Bill 484, introduced to ‘combat public disorder’ threatens felony charges against peaceful protesters and RICO liability against individuals who donate or fundraise for protestors. These severe charges remove basic rights such as voting, gun possession, and receiving public assistance, such as financial aid; having the potential to be weaponized against already embattled labor unions within the state due to the arbitrarily defined penalties against “disorderly conduct”.
Furthermore, the bill prevents protesters from receiving bail until they first appear in court and allows drivers who “fear for their safety” to injure pedestrians on the streets, comparable to Florida’s controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. These draconian policies are a clear attempt to punish anyone who opposes the police state, and an intimidation tactic prevalent in bourgeois politics.
On January 27, over the outcry of activists, the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee passed the bill in its first legislative stop. However, there is still time to defeat the bill as it moves through the Florida legislature in the coming weeks.
“If you don’t like the way the government is treating you and your family, if you want things to be different, you have the right to let them know”, said Rory D of St. Petersburg. “This is a direct targeting of protesters by police and other state officials.”
Hundreds of arrests have been made over ‘disorderly conduct’ in the past 7 months in South Florida, with an overwhelming majority directed against peaceful assemblies. This unwarranted retaliation is only emphasized by Tampa’s massive budget increase towards the police department, totaling $175 million for fiscal year 2021, the largest in the nation.