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New Anti-Rioting Law Casts Shadow Over Black Lives Matter Rally

Protesters hold signs including some that call for the defunding of police.
Julio Ochoa/WUSF Public Media

A new bill signed this week by Gov. DeSantis that toughens penalties for people found to be violating laws at protest rallies is troubling some march organizers.

A rally in support of Black Lives Matter will be held this weekend in Tampa in the wake of the verdict in the George Floyd murder trial. Organizers are hopeful, but wary of the anti-rioting bill that was recently signed into law.

The march will begin at 2:30 p.m. at Cyrus Greene Park in east Tampa.

Donna Davis is co-founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter in Tampa. She said she was relieved that Minneapolis ex-police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd. But she fears what they'll find because of the new anti-protest law that was signed on Monday by the governor.

"I'm terrified. I mean, we're going into the streets this weekend with thousands of people. And the governor is waiting on us to do that. So that he can use and enact his law, (House Bill 1), arbitrarily," Davis said.

"We are literally taking our lives into our hands when we go into the streets," she said after the Chauvin verdict was announced Monday. "And as an organizer and a person who takes responsibility for all of those thousands of people's safety, I am not relieved."

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said the police would not in any way intervene with peaceful protest, and that people would be able to exercise their rights.

"We as an agency are still going to give everybody an opportunity to express their first amendment rights," Dugan said. "Hopefully we can avoid making any arrests."

The new law raises the penalties for actions committed during protests, making some former misdemeanors felonies. It creates a new crime of “mob intimidation,” toughening penalties for riot-related looting and violence. And it gives more rights to people who injure or kill violent protesters.

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Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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