Cuban protests bring up questions about Florida’s anti-riot law

ORLANDO, Fla. — Wednesday marks the fourth day of protests in Central Florida in solidarity with Cubans taking to the streets of Havana rallying for freedom from the communist regime.

A mostly peaceful rally blocked Semoran Boulevard on Tuesday. Another rally is planned for Wednesday, this time in Altamonte Springs.

READ: Hundreds of protestors in support of Cuba block Semoran Boulevard in Orlando, 1 person arrested

Rep. Anna Eskamani said she supports the protests completely, and that they bring up a bigger issue.

“The fact that we see activists that broke the law under the current state of affairs in Florida after the governor signed House Bill 1 into law that they were not that they were not treated the same way as Black Lives Matter protesters have been and would be done is again hypocritical,” she said.

House Bill 1 makes it so that people facing charges for unlawful assembly blocking streets or sidewalks, battery on law enforcement or resisting arrest will be held without bail. Previously any arrests would’ve been able to make bail immediately.

READ: DeSantis calls for more U.S. resources to help bring internet to Cuba

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion where he showed solidarity to Cuba, but when asked if this compared to last year, he said the protests are fundamentally different.

“What I think is happening is Cuba, these people are rebelling against a communist dictatorship, they are not necessarily designed to be peaceful. They are trying to end the regime. That is fundamentally different,” he said.

You can read DeSantis’ full statement to Channel 9 below:

“Governor DeSantis signed HB 1 to empower law enforcement, giving local and state law enforcement agencies another tool in their toolbox to protect and serve the people of Florida. The legislation protects First Amendment freedoms, while ensuring that law enforcement professionals are empowered to use their discretion to maintain public safety. The Governor has always urged all Floridians exercising their right to protest, to make their voices heard peacefully and lawfully.

Under pre-existing Florida law, blocking or obstructing a roadway without a proper permit has long been illegal. This was the case before Governor DeSantis signed HB 1. Section 316.2045 Florida Statutes continues to label “the impeding, hindering, blocking, standing and endangering the safe movement of vehicles or pedestrians” as a “pedestrian violation,” as it was before HB 1. This provision did not change when Governor DeSantis signed HB 1.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the state have discretion to enforce Florida law in a manner that ensures the safety of all motorists and pedestrians. It is not the Governor’s job to arrest or decline to arrest any citizen for any reason; that is the responsibility of law enforcement in each jurisdiction. The Governor does not tell law enforcement how to do their day to day jobs. However, it should go without saying that anyone who breaks the law is subject to arrest.

The Director of the Florida Highway Patrol, Colonel Gene Spaulding, issued a statement on July 13 reminding people that it is both illegal and dangerous to block roadways:

‘The Florida Highway Patrol supports peaceful demonstrations; however, when protestors block limited access highways, they are not only breaking the law, but endangering the lives of the demonstrators and the public at large. Please be respectful of our communities.’”

READ: ‘I am a product of history’: Orlando rallies in support of Cuba

Eskamani is asking for HB1 to be repealed and it’s currently under litigation because of how some say it specifically targets Black people.

On a larger scale, the protests have people on both sides of the aisle saying the same thing: it’s time to help free Cubans from communism.

Cuban-Americans in Central Florida say the blackout in Cuba is keeping them from being able to contact their families.

Photos: Orlando rallies in support of Cuba

Eskamani said cutting off access to the internet is inhumane, and it’s something the U.S. should be acting on.

“A black out in the sense of not knowing what’s happening in the ground has created more fear because there have already been reports of mass arrests — and again, that is news that is scary for all of us that care about human rights,” Eskamani said.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to begin working to bring broadband to the island, Eskamani said it’s about working on the ground as well and getting President Joe Biden to give more than just a statement.

READ: Child tax credits to go out Thursday; here is what you need to know

Sen. Marco Rubio has been taking to Twitter to give his statements sharing viral videos circulating over what has been happening on the island.

He is also calling on Biden to do something quickly, before it’s too late, even if that means involving the help of our allies.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.