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Tallahassee leaders: Gov. DeSantis's violent protests bill won't help

Posted at 5:36 PM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-20 08:12:27-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Cracking down on violent assemblies was Governor DeSantis' message when he announced new legislation on public assemblies.

If passed, the bill would increase penalties for protestors in Florida.

Leaders in the Big Bend area say it won't help and will discuss their issues with the bill on Monday night.

The president of Tallahassee's NAACP, Adner Marcelin, says the proposed bill compromises everyone's right to the first amendment, and the penalties laid out are harsh.

The Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting, and Law Enforcement Act was presented in September.

If passed, anyone involved in a violent or disorderly assembly, like blocking traffic, could be charged with up to a 3rd-degree felony.

"If we go out and get involved in a peaceful protest and somebody does something wrong we're all going to be charged as felons," Terry Chapman said."If we go out and get involved in a peaceful protest and somebody does something wrong we're all going to be charged as felons," Terry Chapman said.

It includes a mandatory minimum six-month jail sentence for striking an officer without bail until the first court appearance if charged with the crime.

Marcelin says Tallahassee protests have been peaceful, and this isn't the answer.

"It sets us back as a community," said Marcelin. "We want to bring members of our law enforcement together with those that have been oppressed by law enforcement and to put them together in a room to see what we can do. But when you start criminalizing people for expressing their rights, I've said it privately, and I'll say it publicly we can not pick and choose when we want to enforce the law. "

Marcelin says he does not believe the bill will pass because it goes against the constitution.

"This proposal threatens to penalize harshly the first amendment right of all citizens to free speech," said Marcelin. "The first amendment rights to the freedom of assembly and its nothing short in my opinion of unconstitutional."

The bill introduced in September also includes damage to property.

"There has been no incident here other than that isolated incident where someone brought a gun and that turned into something at a protest and another incident where someone drove a car through the protesters in the street," Marcelin said.

City commissioner Jeremy Matlow says this compromises people's right to protest.

"All progress comes from people marching in the streets all progress has come from people willing to stand up," said Matlow.

With 15 people arrested after a protest led to a confrontation with Tallahassee police last month, people are hoping this legislation won't contribute to more situations like these.

Instead of more enforcement, they are looking for solutions.

"We need to find a way to work together to bridge the gap to address these issues that are plaguing our communities," Marcelin said.

No one spoke in favor of this bill on Monday, but people did give their support to local law enforcement. One concern was registering protests locally, what the process is, and how it works since many protests are in response to social justice issues.

They are looking to get a clearer answer from law enforcement on that.