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Community groups gather at Florida State Capitol to 'protect the protest'

Published: Feb. 20, 2021 at 7:22 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Community activist groups are putting feet on the ground at the Florida State Capitol aiming to “protect the protest.”

On Saturday, a few dozen people gathered at the historic state capitol building to protest HB1 and SB484. The proposed legislation aims to add harsher punishments for protest related actions.

Formally called the Combatting Public Disorder Bill, it’s more commonly known as the ‘anti-riot’ or ‘protest’ bill. It increases penalties for things like blocking traffic, assault, damage or theft of property or violence against law enforcement officers.

But the groups say it’s a direct threat to first amendment rights.

Oz Hernandez is the Corresponding Secretary for the Leon County Democrats. Speaking to the Saturday crowd, he says there are already existing laws in place for many of the HB1 related measures.

“What’s new is, this bill would make those prison sentences longer. This bill would make those fines higher,’ Hernandez said. “This bill seeks to undermine our guaranteed rights to assemble and protest.”

That view was mirrored by many of those in the crowd on Capitol grounds, like protestor Monica Mathis.

“Just trying to make it impossible for us to speak freely about our opposing or dissenting viewpoints,” Mathis said.

HB1, and it’s counterpart SB484, were filed last month following the riots at the US Capitol.

But it was first proposed last spring among Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation, including in Tallahassee.

Naomi Murray participated in several of those protests, and says she couldn’t stand by quietly as bills like this one continue to move forward.

“To say it simply, it’s not right. It’s really about respecting the first amendment,” Murray said. “It’s really that inequality that drives me out here.”

As dozens stand with signs side by side, the groups believe the proposal will target minorities, like those who walked the streets for Black Lives Matter.

Trish Brown addressed the crowd of protestors on Saturday. Brown is one of the Tally 19, arrested during BLM protests of the summer. She says, legislation like this one threatens to silence the people, in turn silencing the movements they inspire.

“What are we living for, because our constitutional right to the first amendment, to the freedom of speech is who we are,” Brown said. “Our voices is who we are.”

NCAAP Branch President Mutaquee Akbar says he never thought the bill would go as far is it has, but now people need to take a stand.

“The words of Fred Hampton holds true,” Akbar said. “Power is anywhere where there’s people.”

The proposal still needs to be heard and passed by two committees before heading to the full house floor. The groups say they plan to be outside the Capitol again March 2.

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