Real Talk: Florida's Anti-Protest Bill
Okay, some background info is crucial to this. Governor Ron DeSantis announced plans for the HB1 bill following the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, which took place throughout the United States and around the world after the brutal murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Oluwatoyin Salau, among others. Now this new legislation has been mockingly rebranded as an attempt to address the insurrection that took place in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, in fact, it was filed that very night. Coincidence? I think not, but that’s a story for another time.
Thanks to insight from Melba Pearson, an acclaimed civil rights and criminal law prosecutor, at the virtual discussion hosted by United Black Students and UM Democrats during the annual Black Awareness Month (BAM) celebration, a good number of UM students were exposed to the underlying truths of this corrosive bill making its way through the Florida Legislature. Melba Pearson, who currently is the Director of Policy and Programs at the FIU Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, critically breaks down the political jargon inherent in this bill that is wholly targeted towards silencing the voices of the oppressed, and the purpose of this article is to amplify her message further.
First and foremost, this bill is a personification of a silencer firearm held by the police pointing towards disenfranchised people of Florida. Essentially, it takes away the financial power of municipalities and gives it to the governor, and in doing so removes the possibilities of budget cuts from the police department. Additionally, it drastically aggravates the consequences of “hurting” the police during a protest. For example, people thrown in jail for minor misdemeanors are usually held with bail and those that commit felonies like murder are held without bail. Now with this bill, if you are caught illegally protesting and held in jail, there will not be any bail for you. And why this makes no sense is because protestors are usually people who are immensely engaged with their communities’ needs. Pearson added that the criminalization of doxing was added to this bill, but she explained that this action is similar to “putting perfume on a pig.” Why? Again, because the larger problems driving the protests are being ridiculed instead of being resolved.
Pearson did not leave us with no way to move forward after the aforementioned revelations—her closing remarks emphasized the gravity of civic engagement. In response to the absurdity of this bill, blowing up the phones of state legislators can and will go a long way. Many people do not realize the power they hold as citizens of a democratic country. This power plays a crucial role in holding official representatives accountable to their community’s needs, not only during the election seasons but also everyday of the year. Pearson also stressed having political discourse with folks in your circles and donating to the candidates you believe in. Money is the machine that hierarchical systems rely on, and usually young people with the right ideas are obstructed from running because they do not have the money for campaigning or even to begin fundraising in the first place.
Now you, the reader, know about the Anti-Protest Bill and how you and your friends can help to get around it. Saying “I do not know” can no longer be an excuse for subtle injustices like this to prevail directly under our noses, especially during BAM y’all. Even moreso, in accordance with the theme for this year’s BAM, “Black Her-story,” it is vital that we intently digest and enact Melba’s words of wisdom—because as we all know, black womxn be knowing. The BAM committee’s efforts and initiatives to foster widespread awareness of the black experience in America on campus have not gone unnoticed, especially this year given the “changes in university policies surrounding in-person events” that heavily motivated the “seamless shift towards virtually-held events” as told by Landon Coles, president of UBS. Major kudos to UBS and the BAM committee for pulling off this feat.
REPORTER: Angella Nakasagga
CONTRIBUTIONS BY: Layomi Adeojo
THE CITY, Gravity Magazine, 2021.