Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation providing for jail terms of up to 60 days and $500 fines for protesting outside the homes of public officials and private citizens — like what’s been happening to U.S. Supreme Court justices since the leak of a draft opinion reversing Roe v. Wade.
“Sending unruly mobs to private residences, like we have seen with the angry crowds in front of the homes of Supreme Court justices, is inappropriate,” DeSantis said in a written statement. “This bill will provide protection to those living in residential communities and I am glad to sign it into law.”
The Phoenix reported in October that at least five local school board members in the state had faced verbal abuse, vandalism, and other forms of intimidation amid the furor over whether to make public schoolchildren wear masks in the classroom to protect them against COVID-19.
“I’ve personally had some threatening texts from people that I didn’t know had my cell phone number … and I turned that over to law enforcement,” Jane Goodwin, a Sarasota County School Board member, said during a Zoom press conference at the time. (She’s now the board chair.)
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that about a dozen protesters gathered at Sarasota Board chair Shirley Brown’s house with sirens and bullhorns, calling her a “tyrant.” (Brown remains a board member but is no longer the chair.)
Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins wrote in The Washington Post that protesters gathered in front of her house to call her a pedophile and burned “FU” on her yard with weed killer.
The new law takes effect on Oct. 1. After that, people picketing or protesting outside dwellings could be found guilty of second-degree misdemeanors. However, cops first would have to give them a chance to disperse.
The law (HB 1571) cleared the Legislature during its regular session earlier this year, well before Justice Samuel Alito’s draft became public. An analysis released at the time cited picketing outside the homes of Florida’s two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and the Orlando home of one of the officers convicted in George Floyd’s murder.
In the D.C. area, protesters have targeted the homes of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, according to this NPR report.
The Black Collective, a group that described itself as “committed to promoting a shared agenda to elevate political consciousness and amplify the economic power of Black communities,” issued a written statement denouncing the new law.
Francesca Menes, the group’s co-founder and chairperson, compared the measure to HB 1, DeSantis’ legislative response to the George Floyd protests. A federal judge ruled it an unconstitutional curb on protest rights.
“The right to peaceful protest is a bedrock American principle that should never be undermined,” Menes said.
“That’s not the case here in Florida, where we have seen legislation the last two sessions undermining this vital right and attacking the Black communities that have relied on it to bring about meaningful change for generations.”
The new law “only reaffirms our will to make sure our voices are heard in order to create a brighter future for the people of our state,” Menes said.
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix