By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Florida has not been immune to the violent riots and civil unrest that has occurred this year. Axios estimates that this violence has cost insurance companies over $1 billion in damages. Axios also noted that $65 million of that damage occurred in the Miami-Dade area.
Several Cities in Florida Have Seen Violent Incidents and Disruptions
Violence, unrest, and damage have occurred in several locations across the State of Florida as the result of protests and riots. For example, police officers were attacked with rocks, bottles, and construction equipment when they responded to demonstrators who shut down Interstate 4 in downtown Orlando.
Further south in Palm Beach, protesters shut down Interstate 95 by blocking traffic. In Fort Lauderdale, law enforcement used tear gas to break up a demonstration.
In Miami, protesters threw rocks and bottles at police officers and set police cars on fire outside of the Miami Police Department headquarters. In Miami, protesters standing on the roadway were also responsible for shutting down Interstate 95 in both directions.
Videos were posted on social media of protesters breaking into stores in Miami, and the government imposed a curfew to curtail the violence and destruction. Arrests that were made in Miami in association with the protests included people from out-of-state locations, including Minnesota, Michigan, and New York.
In Tampa, protests were equally violent. Police vehicles were damaged, looting and fires occurred at local businesses, and protesters threw projectiles and fireworks at police officers. During the chaos, two deputies in Hillsborough suffered head injuries that required hospital care.
The Florida riots are part of a nationwide trend where over 400 law enforcement officers have become injured during such riots. Two have been killed; one was a police officer whose neck was slashed by a rioter.
Florida Governor DiSantis Responds to the Riots and Violence with New Anti-Riot Legislation
On September 21, Florida Governor Ron DiSantis introduced anti-riot legislation with harsh penalties for disorderly assemblies. The legislation increases penalties against protesters involved in looting and violence.
In addition, the proposed anti-riot legislation cuts state funding to cities who defund the police. Governor DiSantis said, “I look at what goes on in Portland. They get their mugshots taken, then they get released. It’s like a carousel; on and on it goes. That is not going to happen here in Florida.”
The new anti-riot legislation makes it a third-degree felony when seven or more persons are involved in an assembly, and damage to property or injuries occur. In addition, the legislation makes it a third-degree felony to obstruct traffic during an unpermitted protest, and it sets the precedent that drivers are not liable for injury or death if they occur while a driver flees for safety from a mob.
In regard to damaging property or toppling monuments, the legislation makes it a second-degree felony to destroy public property during a violent or disorderly protest. The new legislation makes it illegal to harass or intimidate someone at a public accommodation, such as a restaurant.
The anti-riot legislation also introduces Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) liability to those who organize or fund a violent or disorderly assembly. Increased penalties will result if someone strikes a police officer during a violent or disorderly assembly; the minimum jail sentence will be six months.
Furthermore, the new laws prohibit state employees from engaging in a violent protest. If someone is convicted of participating in a violent or disorderly riot, the law will prohibit that person from receiving state benefits and they will become ineligible for state or local government employment. For those people who get arrested for participating in a violent or disorderly riot, no bail or bond will be issued until the person’s first court appearance.
Florida’s Governor DiSantis has taken a strong stance to reduce violence and damage within the state. This sends a clear message that violence, destruction, and looting will not be tolerated. A similar strong stance elsewhere in the country may be effective in bringing the nationwide violence that was seen over the past couple of months under control.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Most recently, he presented at the 2020 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.