This news popped up the other day but I wanted to circle back to it. In response to the long season of riots and looting in the streets of America’s major cities, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has proposed legislation that would significantly expand his state’s existing Stand Your Ground law. Florida already allows citizens to resort to self-defense, up to and including lethal force, when they legitimately feel that their life or safety is in danger. If this new proposal is adopted, however, that right would also apply any time there was property damage or looting taking place during periods of active unrest. Described as “anti-mob legislation,” citizens would be justified to employ similar levels of force if arson or looting that would cause the “interruption or impairment of a business operation” was observed. Critics are already leveling accusations of racism against the Governor over this proposal. (NBC News)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to amend the state’s “stand your ground” law in a proposal that would expand one of the broadest laws of its kind in the country, worrying critics who say it could empower people to use violence during chaotic and tense confrontations during protests.
The move is part of DeSantis’ “anti-mob” draft legislation, which would target people accused of illegal acts during riots and looting. DeSantis, a Republican, presented his aggressive agenda in response to the months of large-scale racial justice protests across the country, which at times flared into violent clashes.
“His proposal will only fuel racial unrest and violence, not dampen it,” said state Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Orange County. “DeSantis is treating the law as a playbook for his next election, which is reckless and irresponsible.”
I have some questions about this proposal myself, but they aren’t based on any sort of perceived racial bias. The Democrat who is quoted criticizing DeSantis seems to be laboring under the same assumptions that most Democrats employ. Why would anyone say that cracking down on rioters would “fuel racial unrest” unless you’re assuming that the looters are entirely or at least primarily minorities? That’s a pretty racist assumption right there if you ask me. White people can loot too, you know.
But as to the expansion of the Stand Your Ground law, I’m not sure how well that would hold up in court when it’s inevitably challenged. The states all generally recognize the right to self-defense, though some are more strident about it than others. But the word “self” is included in self-defense for a reason. The phrase implicitly suggests defending one’s own person. That’s expanded to cover the welfare of your family or even innocent bystanders in most cases, but it always revolves around the personal safety of human beings.
The critical wording in the proposal DeSantis is offering goes far beyond that. One key portion of it expands existing self-defense situations to include “looting, criminal mischief and arson that results in the interruption or impairment of a business operation” as justifications for using physical force, including lethal options, against a person.
Two things about this aren’t entirely clear to me at this stage, though I’ve sent a request for comment to the Governor’s office and will update this if we receive clarification. They are defining looting for these purposes as “committing burglary within 500 feet of a violent or disorderly assembly.” First of all, would this only apply to the owner or perhaps manager or other employees of a commercial property that was being looted? Or could any citizen who happened to be hanging around near the rioting just shoot somebody carrying a flatscreen out of a smashed up store?
Don’t get me wrong… I’m all in favor of finding ways to put an end to the riots, but that seems a bit extreme even to me. Violence towards persons and damage to or theft of property exist on two totally different rungs of the criminal ladder.
The other problem comes with defining what activities do or do not qualify as a riot for these purposes. I would imagine most of us would respond by saying we know a riot when we see one, but it’s not always going to be clear. Would a march in the streets without obtaining a permit qualify? How about if it escalated to the point of shoving between the demonstrators and the lines of police officers? When it gets to the point where windows are breaking and goods are being hauled away, there’s definite rioting and looting going on, but is it a riot when the first brick is thrown?
I’m guessing that Governor DeSantis is proposing this measure partly in an earnest effort to discourage rioting and looting in his state, but also to beef up his credentials as a law and order candidate ahead of his next election. But I find some aspects of this proposal worrisome. It could end up being something that invokes the law of unintended consequences and comes back to bite us later.