Florida Governor Ron Desantis recently proposed an amendment to Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law, which would expand it to include any kind of criminal activity that interferes with business operations, such as looting or arson, as a justification for the use of lethal force in self-defense. This attracted controversy due to Florida’s already loose restrictions on what counts as self-defense and has raised worries from various experts about its implications for racial justice protests that have been occurring throughout the state.
The law was first introduced in 2005 and allows a citizen to use lethal force if they feel threatened by an assailant in public and private. Citizens may “stand their ground” by not being required to retreat or de-escalate in a confrontation. The law makes it extremely hard to prosecute anyone for use of excessive or lethal force in a confrontation, as the individual can simply say that they felt threatened enough to do so.
Desantis proposed expanding the law as part of a broader crackdown on violent protests in the form of “anti-mob” laws that would make blocking traffic a felony and give immunity to drivers who claim they accidentally killed or injured protestors in the middle of the road. A deeper examination of Florida’s political climate reveals possible ulterior motives.
“One background feature that seems relevant is that DeSantis’ approval ratings have really tanked over the past several months,” Professor of Political Science Micheal Gorup remarked. “He was one of the most popular governors in the country before March, but his approach to handling the Coronavirus—or lack thereof—has been disastrous, and it has really hurt his numbers.”
Beyond electoral politics, Desantis’s actions seem to also be guided by reactionary force.
“The Right’s response to the recent wave of protests against police violence is not only to double-down on support for traditional law enforcement—a clear motive behind the earlier legislative package that Desantis introduced—but to grant state sanction to the violent repression of protesters by vigilantes,” Gorup concluded.
Those who hope for further COVID-19 relief will have to wait as the governor chooses to focus on another issue.