By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — There is new controversy over Florida’s anti-riot bill, HB 1. In April, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law, officially titled Combatting Public Disorder.

“It is the strongest, anti-rioting, pro law enforcement piece of legislation in the country,” DeSantis said in April. “And there is just nothing even close.”

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The bill came in response to the Black Lives Matter protests across the country in 2020, enhancing penalties for violent protests and giving greater authority for police to determine what is and what is not considered a riot.

“We also have penalties for people who commandeer highways which we saw in other parts of the country,” he noted. “Just think about it, you’re driving home from work and all of a sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway. If they start to do that there needs to be swift penalties and that’s something that just cannot happen.”

And yet that is exactly what happened in Miami on Tuesday, as hundreds of protesters shut down the Palmetto for more than eight hours. And it was DeSantis’s own Florida Highway Patrol that allowed it to happen.

“I’m actually happy that they are not enforcing HB1,” said State Senator Shrevrin Jones, a Democrat from Miami, who opposed HB1 when it was debated in Tallahassee earlier this year. He said the bill was not needed and appeared to be an attempt to shut down protests that the Governor might not like. Even worse, Jones and others feared the law would be used almost exclusively against Blacks who protest racial injustice.

Even before the bill was passed, Jones recalled that when Black Lives Matter protesters last summer tried to get onto a highway they were blocked and arrested.

“That’s not what happened yesterday,” Jones said. “And so now what we are seeing, I repeat, is a double standard of what HB1 was supposed to prevent. And the unfortunate part is that it seems this HB1 is for Black folks, period, because that’s the double standard that we’re seeing right now.”

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Republican State Representative Daniel Perez, who pushed for passage of HB1, said he does not believe the protesters on the Palmetto specifically violated the law.

“This wasn’t the anti-peaceful protest law. It was the anti-rioting law,” he said.

Nevertheless, Perez said the protesters did violate other laws against blocking traffic.

“The people that were that were blocking off the Palmetto should not have been blocking off the Palmetto,” he said. “I get it. It was peaceful. And I understand it’s passionate, but they should not have done that. I asked them to not do that moving forward and to continue to peacefully protest in a way that doesn’t obstruct traffic.”

Perez said the police should have stepped in and cleared the road immediately.

“There should not have been one minute of obstruction of traffic,” he said. “As soon as there’s obstruction of traffic, there should be other law enforcement. Even if it is for a free Cuba. If it is for BLM, if it is for rainbows and butterflies, doesn’t matter, there should not be obstruction, obstruction of traffic on the Palmetto.”

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The Florida Highway Patrol released a statement Wednesday saying FHP is committed to safety and says people blocking highways endanger themselves, the public and first responders. FHP also said they work with other law enforcement agencies to safely clear roadways but did not say why it took more than 8 hours to clear the Palmetto Expressway on Tuesday night.

Jim DeFede