Florida May Expand ‘Stand Your Ground’ So People Could Shoot ‘Looters’

November 11, 2020 Off By Tess Owen

After protests against racism and police brutality swept the U.S. this summer, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis vowed to usher in the “strongest pro-law enforcement, anti-rioting legislation anywhere in the country.” 

Now he’s looking to make good on that promise with a proposed draft of “anti-mob” legislation that expands Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, and would allow citizens to use force against people engaged in the “interruption or impairment” of a business, or burglaries within 500 feet of a “violent or disorderly assembly,” according to the Miami Herald

Additionally, the “anti-mob” law would make it a third-degree felony to block traffic during a protest, and grant immunity to drivers who accidentally kill or hurt protesters who are standing in roads, the Herald reported. 

The proposed legislation contains echoes of one of President Donald Trump’s more controversial tweets, fired off amid riots that came in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” the president tweeted. Though he later claimed he was trying to make a point that gun violence can come on the heels of looting, his words were widely viewed as tacit endorsement of deadly force against protesters. 

That same phrase was used in Florida decades earlier. In 1967 in response to an outbreak of crime around the Christmas holiday season that year,  Miami Police Chief Walter Headley said that “there is only one way to handle looters and arsonists during a riot and that is to shoot them on sight,” according to the New York Times. “I’ve let the word filter down: When the looting starts the shooting starts.” 

The governor’s office did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment on the proposed legislation. 

DeSantis’ current “anti-mob” proposal would in part legalize the troubling surge in vigilantism seen at protests across the country over the course of this year. 

Groups of armed men have been an increasingly common sight at anti-lockdown and Black Lives Matter protests around the country — and in many cases they have been welcomed by local law enforcement. 

In August, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse came to protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with an AR-style rifle, joked around with police who thanked him for being there, and was later charged with killing two protesters. Rittenhouse, a former police cadet, was quickly transformed into a right-wing folk hero by conservative pundits and politicians alike, who argued he was just exercising his Second Amendment rights. He’s currently facing first degree murder charges, and will be tried as an adult in Wisconsin. 

There also were at least two instances where business owners, claiming self-defense, shot and killed protesters this summer. In May, John Rieple, a white pawnshop owner in Minneapolis, killed Calvin Horton Jr., a 42-year-old Black man two days after George Floyd was killed by police. Rieple said he was defending his business. Renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing Horton’s family, and said in a statement to the Star Tribune that video footage showed Rieple inside his business and shooting outwards into the crowd. Rieple has not been charged. 

A few days later, Jake Gardner, a white Nebraska bar owner, shot and killed James Scurlock, a 22-year-old unarmed Black man during protests in Omaha. The Douglas County Attorney initially declined to bring charges against Gardner on the basis that he was justified because he “feared for his own life and serious bodily injury.” A grand jury disagreed and indicted Gardner on four felony charges, including manslaughter, in late September. Gardner died by suicide a week later. 

This year, Black Lives Matter protests took place in all 50 states, including Florida, though they weren’t as robust in that state as they were in other parts of the country. According to a VICE News analysis of gun violence at protests this summer, there were three incidents in Florida where counterprotesters brandished guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in a threatening manner. In one of those cases, the perpetrator was charged with a crime.