Governor DeSantis moves to crack down on Florida's destructive protesters, 'violent agitators'

DeSantis's Democratic colleagues call the effort 'dog-whistle base stuff' meant to boost President Trump's election outlook in Florida

Updated: September 23, 2020 - 11:05pm

Florida Gov Ron DeSantis has presented an aggressive plan to prosecute what he calls "violent agitators" in his state.

"If you know that a ton of bricks will rain down on you, then I think people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct," the Republican governor said Tuesday near Tampa.

The new proposal would make damaging property and other acts of violence felony offenses. The governor also said he will consider cutting off state funding to cities that "defund the police."

The effort, as expected, has become a politically divisive issue with DeSantis, a Trump ally, taking a tough stance on violent protests, much like the president, who is seeking reelection in part on a law-and-order platform. 

The campaign for Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden and others argue Republicans are using relatively rare instances of violence to condemn all forms of legitimate protest across the country.

The proposal more specifically would make it a third-degree felony to gather in a group of more than seven people that causes injury or damage and to block traffic during a protest being held without a permit. Additionally, it created a six-month mandatory minimum sentence for anyone who hits an officer of the law during a "disorderly assembly." 

DeSantis's proposal will be a focal point of Florida's early 2021 legislative session, and will likely receive early committee hearings during which Democrats will state their opposition. Republicans control the state's House and Senate.

Some Democrats are already voicing their dissatisfaction with the governor's suggested legislation. "None of this is about policy," said Evan Jenne, the incoming Florida House minority leader. "It's about buoying President Trump, who has slipped precipitously in the polls. It's dog-whistle base stuff."

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