TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – "You have just declared war on the First Amendment in the state of Florida." Strong words on Monday afternoon from State Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, directed at Gov. Ron DeSantis just hours after signing HB 1, the so-called anti-riot bill.
The law, which went into effect immediately, creates a new crime of "mob intimidation," enhances riot-related penalties and makes it harder for local officials to reduce spending on law enforcement.
The bill was a response to protests around the country because of police violence against African Americans. DeSantis said Florida won't allow violent protests and predicted people might be upset by the verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
Senator Jones and other members of the Florida legislature held a news conference expressing outrage over the new law.
"Our response to injustices in this country is protests, but their response is to criminalize it when their recourse for us is to turn to the streets, to make our voices heard in this unjust system. Governor DeSantis's actions today goes to show that he's not concerned about the lives of Black and Brown people who so happened to be citizens of this diverse state that many of us call home. He ignored us today, and our cries from the Senate floor and also from the House floor. If he was concerned, he would have addressed the killings of Black men by the hands of police officers. If he was concerned, he would have addressed and acknowledged the gun violence that's running rampant in communities across this state," said Sen. Jones.
After the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, Republicans pushing the legislation used it as an example to support the effort.
But the Capitol riots were not mentioned as the bill was signed by Gov. DeSantis.
Opponents of the bill say it was a racist reaction to a problem that hasn't occurred in Florida. They saw it as an attempt to squash the voices of groups like Black Lives Matter.
Sen. Jones also noted that the governor made mention of the Chauvin trial with the expectation that there could be protests if Chauvin is acquitted.
"He made it clear that he was setting the stage for what may happen if Derek Chauvin is acquitted for murdering George Floyd. Here's what I won't do. I will not compromise bipartisanship for injustice. Our ancestors and our parents fought hard for us not to have to repeat this moment and I refuse to sit here and play pattycake with a group of people who will acknowledge that 80% of the people who sit in our jails look like me. Who will acknowledge the fact that when we get pulled over, we get questioned on 'Whose car is this? Are you supposed to be here?' If the Jim Crow era didn't teach us one thing, it taught us that this is a long game."
WATCH: Entire news conference here.
The new law will enhance penalties for crimes committed during a riot or violent protest. It will allow authorities to hold arrested protesters until a first court appearance and will establish new felonies for organizing or participating in a violent demonstration.
It also strips local governments of civil liability protections if they interfere with law enforcement's efforts to respond to a violent protest and adds language to state law that could force local governments to justify a reduction in law enforcement budgets.
It will make it a second-degree felony to destroy or demolish a memorial, plaque, flag, painting, structure or other object that commemorates historical people or events. That would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried also spoke out about the new law saying she is "heartbroken."
"You see the diversity behind us, representing all walks of life. You did not see that earlier today. You almost saw them smiling and gleeful about what they were signing into law," said Fried as she described DeSantis as he was surrounded by the state's highest-ranking Republicans when he signed the bill -- Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
"Now, we all took the same exact oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the state of Florida. And that means every amendment to our Constitution. And one of the first things I learned at law school is about freedom of speech. That if you are going to protect the Constitution, you have to protect it for people who are going to stand up and say things that you do not like, as much as those who stand with us today on things that we agree upon."
Fried recalled a visit to Poland during high school when she attended The March of The Living and spent time visiting concentration camps, learning how no one stood up against hatred, against murder, against injustice.
"I swore at that moment, that every opportunity that I was going to stand up for injustice and had that chance that I was going to do so. And that is why I'm here today."
She said DeSantis is not interested in getting to the bottom of racial injustice, rather, just the opposite. "Governor, you've made it more dangerous for the people here in our state, who want to stand up against injustice, and make changes to society. We all would not be here today if it wasn't for our forefathers and people that stood beforehand, protesting, standing up against injustice, standing up to give all of us the right to vote. We would not be here today, if it wasn't for those people who are willing to put their lives on the line. And so today, we reaffirm their commitment to stand up against injustice, to make sure that voter suppression bills get destroyed."
Here in South Florida, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava issued the following statement regarding the signing of HB1 into law.
"HB1 is a divisive bill designed to discourage Floridians from safely and legally exercising their first amendment right to free speech, while also preventing local governments from effectively allocating public safety resources. Leaders in Tallahassee should be focused on legislation that will help our state rebound from the economic crisis of COVID and on tackling critical issues like climate and housing – not punitive bills that discourage peaceful protest and make it harder for local leaders to effectively set budgets to keep our communities safe."
Florida's NAACP also released a statement saying the law is racist and discriminatory.
"Today is a sad day for Florida. The Governor signed H.B. 1 into law. The bill is racist, discriminatory, unwise, unlawful, and unjust. The Governor put his stamp on this discriminatory law filled with criminalization and civil rights disenfranchisement aimed at Black and Brown Floridians. We won't sit silent on this issue and we won't let this stop peaceful protests across the state of Florida," says Adora Obi Nweze, President of NAACP Florida State Conference and member of the National Board of Directors.
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