ORLANDO, Fla. — Across the country, thousands of people took to the streets after George Floyd was murdered by a former police officer in Minneapolis.
While many of the protests here in Florida were peaceful, the same could not be said for other parts of the country.
In the wake of those incidents, many states began to look at ways to keep protests from getting out of hand.
One such effort in Florida was HB-1, titled “Combating Public Disorder,” which increased the penalties for offenses that occur during civil disturbances.
After the governor signed the legislation into law it didn’t take long for civil rights groups to file suit against the state deeming the law unconstitutional.
Orlando attorney Aaron Bates filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday on behalf of the Lawyers Matter Task Force, an advocacy group that protects the rights of protestors.
“This is the most unconstitutional piece of legislation I’ve ever seen,” Bates said.
He says the law aims to penalize anyone involved in a protest where a crime is committed regardless of whether or not they actually commit a crime.
“If we were all to go and demonstrate under the bill and an unrelated character came and committed an act of violence, because we were all in the neighborhood we’d all be going to jail,” Bates said.
Shannon Ligon, founder of the Lawyers Matter Task Force, says the law gives those in power the ability to stifle criticisms of their policy.
“To have our youth where they could have been in prison for volunteering and doing the right thing it sends a message that people in power can do what they want,” Ligon said.
The task force is hoping that the courts will grant an injunction until the constitutionality of the new law is established.
In a statement Wednesday a spokesperson for the governor said,
“The Governor’s Office has not yet been served in this case, but we will firmly defend the legal merits of HB 1, which protects businesses, supports law enforcement, and ensures punishment for those who cause violence in our communities.”