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DeSantis tells protesters not to block traffic

Gov. Ron DeSantis said protests in Florida in support of Cuban citizens have been peaceful.
Protesters dance and sing while blocking Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa in solidarity with ongoing protests in Cuba on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. ÒIf Cuba is on the streets, Tampa is too,Ó they chanted in Spanish throughout the night.
Protesters dance and sing while blocking Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa in solidarity with ongoing protests in Cuba on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. ÒIf Cuba is on the streets, Tampa is too,Ó they chanted in Spanish throughout the night. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 16

Gov. Ron DeSantis is urging Floridians to stay off of roads and highways when protesting in support of Cubans who are rebelling against the island nation’s government.

At a press conference Thursday to discuss aiding Cuban protesters in getting internet access amid government-caused blackouts, DeSantis was asked about Florida protesters who showed solidarity with Cubans by blocking highways in Miami and Tampa this week.

“We can’t have that. It’s dangerous for you to be shutting down a thoroughfare. You’re also putting other people in jeopardy. You don’t know if an emergency vehicle needs to get somewhere, and then obviously it’s just disrespectful to make people stand in traffic,” the governor told reporters during a press conference in Miami.

DeSantis has faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers who maintain that the governor isn’t equitably applying a new law aimed at cracking down on violent protests. DeSantis championed the “Combating Public Disorder Act” (HB 1), passed by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature this spring, following national protests sparked by the death of George Floyd last year.

Rep. Omari Hardy, D-West Palm Beach, was among the Black lawmakers who criticized DeSantis’ response to Florida protesters this week.

“@GovRonDeSantis made blocking roads during a protest illegal, but he’s 100% cool with this because it’s Cuban-Americans protesting communism, not Black people protesting police violence,” Hardy, D-West Palm Beach, tweeted Tuesday. “Anti-protest laws are meant to be enforced against Black people only, of course.”

The new law, which went into effect when DeSantis signed it in April, includes a provision imposing penalties for protesters who block roadways.

“That’s been illegal in Florida way before HB 1. It’s not something we’re going to tolerate,” DeSantis said Thursday.

The governor said Florida law enforcement officials “did the right thing” to clear roadways of protesters, as at least two people were arrested after blocking roads in Tampa.

Related: SOS Cuba protesters granted bail after being held in Tampa under 'anti-riot' law

But the governor insisted that protests in support of Cuban citizens have been peaceful.

“There is nothing wrong with doing peaceful demonstrations, and HB 1 had nothing to do with peaceful. Cuban-Americans who were out demonstrating in (Miami restaurant Café) Versailles, they’re not violent. Those aren’t riots. They’re out there being peaceful and they’re making their voice heard. And we support them in their ability to do that. But it can’t be where you shut down commerce or you shut down the ability to use these arteries … especially in a place like Miami where the traffic can be very bad,’” DeSantis said.

A coalition of groups, including the Dream Defenders and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, have filed a lawsuit challenging the new statute.

Related: Groups ramp up effort to block Florida 'anti-protest' law

The law, one of the biggest issues of this year’s legislative session, also has drawn a lawsuit that was filed April 21 in federal court in Orlando. That lawsuit also is pending.