Florida’s new anti-riot law adds protection for businesses

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida now has a new law aimed at preventing violent protests and riots.

Lawmakers say it’ll hold local officials responsible for keeping the peace, but opponents say it stifles their free speech.

Action News Jax spoke with a restaurant owner who was there during the riots last year.

Freddy Ghobad, the owner of cases Dora Italian Cafe, remembers the violent protest that broke out in downtown Jacksonville in May of 2020.

“They told us to pick up all of the chairs outside, bring them in because there is a rush coming,” Ghobad said.

STORY: JSO releases After-Action report following last year’s violent protests in downtown Jacksonville

People flooded the streets of downtown protesting the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody.

“They were running away from police because they were trying to push them out of the area. It was kind of pandemonium, it was crazy,” he said.

Several people were arrested and police officers were hurt.

Ghobad’s restaurant was spared but many other businesses were damaged.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new anti-rioting law is hoping to cut down on some on the violence and protect businesses, too.

It would allow businesses destroyed in riots to sue if cities are unable to provide police protection.

“I think it’s a great idea to have some measure of defense against some of these things, but we have to see if it works, if people are going to abide by it or they’re going to break it the rules,” Ghobad said.

INVESTIGATES: Protesters sue JSO after protests last May

Opponents of this law fear it could impact their free speech.

“I just feel like police reform and defunding the police is definitely something that we should talk about and that took away that entire protest. That’s an entire movement and that’s being completely shut down,” Diamond Wallace, local activist and COO of Jewels of the Future, said.

But those in favor of the law say it’ll protect property and people.

“We had people who were hurt. We don’t want that and most importantly, we need to protect our law enforcement officers because they’re the ones we send in there when a riot takes off,” Rory Diamond city councilmember for district 13, said.