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Cuban American protests challenge DeSantis' 'anti-riot' law

Gov. DeSantis calls Cuban support demonstrations 'fundamentally different' from BLM protests
Photo by: FDOT
Protesters shut down Interstate 95 near the Okeechobee Boulevard exit on July 13, 2021, in West Palm Beach.
Posted at 5:25 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 17:48:21-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida's controversial new "anti-riot" law is facing some serious questions after demonstrations in Miami and West Palm Beach closed busy freeways Tuesday.

The law was passed during Florida's recent legislative session and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis following last summer's protests after the murder of George Floyd.

The new law punishes protesters who take part in violent and disorderly demonstrations in Florida along with commandeering highways.

There is a specific section of the new law that says people are in violation if they "willfully obstruct the free, convenient, and normal use of a public street, highway or road" by "impeding, hindering, stifling, retarding, or restraining traffic."

It goes on to say that a pedestrian "endangering the safe movement of vehicles" "shall be cited" and face punishment.

When he signed the bill into law in April, DeSantis said the state wasn't going to allow "the mob win the day" and "Florida takes public safety very seriously."

During a roundtable discussion held Tuesday in Miami, the governor was asked if he thought the protesters who blocked traffic on the Palmetto Expressway should be arrested.

DeSantis said this week's demonstrations were "fundamentally different" from the 2020 protests in support of police reform after Floyd's killing.

"People [last summer] were burning down buildings, looting, breaking windows, targeting law enforcement," DeSantis said. "I think that people understand the difference between going out and peacefully assembling, which is obviously people's Constitutional right, and attacking other people."

A social justice group filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and others two days after the anti-riot bill was signed into law.

The Florida Highway Patrol issued a statement on Twitter after Tuesday evening's rally closed southbound Interstate 95 near the Okeechobee Boulevard exit for about an hour.

The FHP said the actions of protesters blocking traffic not only break the law but also endangers both them and other members of the public.

It's unclear if anyone was cited for Tuesday's demonstrations in Miami or West Palm Beach. Three were charged in demonstrations in Tampa.

Overall, the rallies in South Florida since Sunday have been peaceful with no reports of looting or violence against police.