FORT MYERS, Fla. — In a move to strengthen penalties against rioters, Governor Ron Desantis has signed House Bill 1.
Those in favor of the bill have described it as making civil protests ‘okay’ and violent protests illegal. But do the troubles stop there?
“This, really, was not necessary," says Dr. David Thomas, Professor of Forensic Studies at FGCU. "But they did it because we want to be known as a law and order state. The reality is people are still going to riot, officers are still going to make arrests and you’re going to enhance the penalties to what end? That’s because what you want- this is supposed to be about prevention. That’s never going to happen.”
Governor Desantis has said they are also working on issuing $1,000 bonus checks to law enforcement. But where and what that money could be used towards remains to be seen.
“I don’t know what you would do with that money and where they would find a need to put it," said Thomas. "It’s not very much money to deal with any kind of a problem that an organization, a police department or a sheriff’s office, would have.”
“I’m not surprised at all," says Chantel Rhodes. Rhodes is an organizer of a local social justice group called ‘Peaceful Protest Group of Lee County.’ For Rhodes, the passing of the bill seems all too familiar and means the creation of more division.
"When we look at a nation who puts more of an emphasis on the after math of events such as police brutality and they take away the focus of the actual root cause of those events, it is not surprising," she says. "This is what we’ve been having to deal with for centuries.”
Instead, she would rather see both sides come together and work toward a solution.
“It would help us, it would benefit us as a state and as a nation if our leaders would put more focus on how to unify people instead of punishing and penalizing." said Rhodes. "Let’s get to the root of the matter.”
The bill isn’t meant to intimidate at all. If anything, as Rhodes says, she hopes their voices continue to carry and work toward a better tomorrow.
“I would just hope that people continue to show up, continue to lift their voices in opposition to injustices and I would hope that our local and our state leaders would start to put more of an emphasis on the root of those injustices and not necessarily focus on the aftermath.”