Remember the rush by Florida lawmakers to craft an “anti-rioting” bill designed to enhance penalties against mostly nonviolent protests stemming from Black Lives Matter demonstrations?
A law with unintended consequences
It was all about stopping the looting by antifa, a nonexistent organization, and protecting our Southern heritage – aka the Confederate monuments that venerated our slave-owning secessionist past.
This legislation was the first order of business, House Bill No. 1, and was promoted with great fanfare by Gov. Ron DeSantis and a phalanx of Florida lawmakers at a signing ceremony in April.
Preserving the calm in Florida?
Standing next to DeSantis, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd took the extraordinary step telling potential new residents of Florida that supporting this bill was the way to keep the violent and disorderly protests that were happening in other states out of Florida.
“Welcome to Florida, but don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way they do up North, or you’ll get what they got,” Judd said.
OK, so this was about “voting the right way,” too?
That explains the photos of Black looters that Judd held up at the signing event. We can’t let the Black people get out of control here in Florida, I guess was the not-so-subliminal message.
Brief historical note: As long as we’re preserving our past, it’s worth noting that Polk County was named when Florida seceded from the Union in 1861 in honor of James Polk, the 11th president of the United States.
When Polk died in 1827, he willed his 8,000-acre plantation in Tennessee and the 53 slaves he owned to his wife and children.
“In addition to using enslaved labor at the White House, Polk secretly purchased
enslaved people and separated children aged 10 through 17 from their families while in office,” the White House Historical Association wrote. “President Polk projected the persona of a benevolent and paternalistic slave owner who kept enslaved people because they were inherited from family members.
“In actuality, Polk was a profit-hungry slave owner, ripping apart families for his own personal gain.”
So to have the modern-day sheriff of Polk County essentially talk about keeping the Black folk in line, well, “bless his heart.”
Reality deals a blow to the narrative
And this knuckling down on out-of-state antifa agitators with Florida's new Combating Public Disorder law isn’t going according to script, either.
Last week, Alexander Jerich, 20, of suburban Lake Worth Beach took a brief detour in his pickup from the route of a vehicle parade celebrating former President Donald Trump’s 75th birthday.
Jerich was driving a truck with one of those big Vanilla ISIS Trump flags flapping in the back. It read: “All Aboard the Trump Train.”
His Trump train drove off its track in downtown Delray Beach and to a nearby intersection and crosswalk that had two days earlier been unveiled as a $16,000 street art project commissioned by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
The street mural turned that intersection of Northeast First Street and Northeast Second Avenue into familiar rainbow stripes of gay, lesbian and bisexual pride, as well as pink, white and blue for transgender people and black and brown stripes for people of color.
A video from another vehicle captured Jerich driving over the painted intersection while putting his truck into a “burnout” skid, which involves revving the engine at high speeds while applying the emergency brake, thereby sending the vehicle slowly snaking forward while burning rubber from the tires, leaving black tracks to deface the street mural.
After the video of the vandalism appeared, Jerich turned himself in to Delray Beach Police, which charged him with criminal mischief and reckless driving, with a felony enhancement based on prejudice.
But Rand Hoch, the president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, asked that Florida’s new Combating Public Disorder law be applied.
"PBCHRC has requested the charges include defacing a memorial – a recently enacted law which would require this crime to be treated as a felony,” Hoch wrote in a prepared statement. “If convicted of this offense, the perpetrator would be responsible for reimbursing the City of Delray Beach for the cost of repairing the damages in addition to the severe penalties for committing a felony."
It wasn't clear Monday whether the State Attorney's Office will take Hoch up on his request,but the street installation does seem to fall under a provision of the new law that creates new second-degree felony penalties for defacing a “memorial.”
The law loosely defines a memorial as “a plaque, statue, marker, flag, banner, cenotaph, religious symbol, painting, seal, tombstone, structure name, or display that is constructed and located with the intent of being permanently displayed or perpetually maintained.”
This was supposed to stop people from defacing remnants of the Confederacy, not protecting gay people and people of color, who tend to vote “the stupid way," as Judd might say.
Florida made its mark at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot
In other off-message news, an analysis of the nearly 500 arrests made so far of those people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 showed that Florida lawmakers should be less concerned with violent protestors from Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle, and more concerned with their own Florida voters, especially the ones who vote “the right way.”
About 1 in 10 of the people charged in that violent insurrection to overturn the results of a certified election, an insurrection that injured 140 officers and sent members of Congress scurrying for their lives, were from Florida, according to a USA Today analysis.
Florida is tied with Texas for the state with the highest number of citizens arrested in that violent insurrection, and Florida leads all states in those arrested who are members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, both violent, right-wing extremist groups.
It looks like the real threats to public order in Florida are already here. And they’re not Black looters.
“Pay attention, we got a new law, and we’re going to use it if you make us,” Judd said at the law's signing ceremony.
OK, well, this is going to be awkward: because it looks like the first guy is one of your smart-voter Trumpers.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, Inc. is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Council promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.