MIAMI, Sept 10 ― A US federal judge yesterday ruled against Florida’s controversial “anti-riot” that had been pushed by the southern state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, arguing it could lead to the arrest of innocent people.
Judge Mark Walker said the law adopted in April was “vague and overbroad” and threatened people’s freedom of expression and assembly.
He argued the law could be used to punish people who are present at a demonstration, even if others instigate violence.
“If this Court does not enjoin the statute’s enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians,” Walker said in his 90-page opinion.
“It unfortunately takes only a handful of bad actors to transform a peaceful protest into ‘a violent public disturbance,’” he added.
The ruling followed a lawsuit brought by several civil society organisations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), against a law that they said sought to prevent protests by the African-American population and other minorities.
DeSantis had pushed for a stricter anti-riot law following protests against police brutality that erupted last year in cities across the United States.
Those demonstrations began in the wake of the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman in Minneapolis.
Among other provisions, the new anti-riot law allows for tougher penalties for crimes committed during protests, such as assaulting police or other uniformed personnel, and set out penalties of up to five years in prison for those who participate in or incite riots.
After hearing the ruling, DeSantis said the state of Florida will appeal the decision before a federal court in Atlanta, in neighbouring Georgia. ― AFP