DeSantis Has No Respect for the First Amendment | Opinion

  • SB 184 Allows Police to Evade Accountability

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is continuing his assault on the First Amendment by signing into law SB 184 that creates a buffer zone around first responders – supposedly to keep harassers away.  

As one judge recently said in a ruling in another case: “Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem.”

Meanwhile, First Amendment advocates, like the First Amendment Foundation and ACLU, have raised alarms over the buffer law.

“We appreciate the importance of protecting first responders but are concerned that the bill prevents citizens from going near or filming first responders within 25 feet if told not to approach,” the First Amendment Foundation wrote. “This bill would undermine citizen journalists and could allow for undocumented police misconduct.”

Without proper checks and balances in place first responders, especially police, will inevitably end up abusing their positions of power. We’ve seen it time and time again. Documenting their behavior is not harassment. It’s a public right.

The ACLU wrote: “SB 184 would grant police the unchecked power to prevent the public, including the media, from being able to be close enough to observe and record instances of law enforcement excessive use of force. The bill includes no exceptions for media or bystanders engaged in the non- confrontational recording of law enforcement, verbal attempts to deescalate an officer’s excessive use of force in order to save lives, or attempts to render aid and medical assistance to an already defenseless injured individual from further unnecessary violent actions by law enforcement. This bill would make it harder to hold police accountable for their actions, would shield police from public scrutiny, and would criminalize individuals for bearing witness.”

One of the best examples of citizen journalism was Darnella Frazier’s recording of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd. Imagine if there had been a buffer law – giving police the ability to accuse her of harassment, or order her to stop filming, or even arrest her. Frazier was later awarded an honorary Pulitzer Prize for the recording.

Russell Cormican, a First Amendment attorney, in Fort Lauderdale explains that the constitution allows for some restrictions on expression, but this one may go too far.

“You don’t have the first amendment right to scream at the judge in a courtroom and disrupt the proceedings,” Cormican said. “However, these restrictions must be content-neutral, not overly restrictive, and there must be alternative avenues for the expression to take place. So, it is possible that this bill may be going too far in creating such a large buffer zone that it no longer serves the purpose of protecting police officers but rather is simply being used to stifle criticism of police conduct.”

Of course, this law is an overreach. That’s what DeSantis does best. He isn’t concerned with crafting meaningful and nuanced laws that will withstand legal scrutiny. He wants to rile up his base. For someone who proclaims himself to be a law and order politician, he’s actually an authoritarian who has little regard for the constitution.

DeSantis has a long history of restricting our Freedom of Speech, whether that’s through the “Don’t Say Gay” laws; the book bans; his “anti-woke” law; or his war against diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses.

Some of these laws have been rolled back or blocked by courts.

“Once again, the State of Florida has a First Amendment problem,” Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote about DeSantis’ anti-pronoun law. “Of late, it has happened so frequently, some might say you can set your clock by it.”


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