TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Cap News Services) – The effort to strike down the state’s recently adopted ‘anti-riot’ law was before a federal judge on Monday.
A coalition of social justice groups brought the suit because they believe the law could lead to the arrest of peaceful protesters.
At its heart, the lawsuit contends the state’s anti-riot law is overly vague and could lead to police using it to justify arresting peaceful protesters if violence breaks out at a demonstration.
“Police officers are authorized to decide for themselves whenever you have a peaceful protest, what constitutes a ‘violent public disturbance’,” said ACLU of Florida attorney Max Gaston.
Gaston said groups involved in the lawsuit have already seen a decline in the number of members willing to attend protests out of fear they could face arrest.
“They have been forced to cancel, postpone or modify their events,” said Gaston.
The groups suing argue the law fails to clarify whether a peaceful protester could be considered a participant in a riot for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Even though they themselves haven’t done anything violent? That’s really the problem with this law,” said Gaston.
The state pushed back against that claim and argued the law would only apply to people actively engaging in violence or destruction of property.
Senate sponsor Danny Burgess made the same argument during this past legislative session.
“The most important thing HB1 will do is protect the right to peacefully protest by discouraging those who seek to thwart that right through violence and unrest,” said Burgess in April.
At this point, the judge is only deciding whether to temporarily block the law from being enforced before the case goes to trial.
The judge said a ruling would likely take a few days.
We reached out to the Governor’s Office for comment on this story, but did not hear back in time.
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