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Floridians mobilize to capitol against legislative attacks on police accountability

By Tavish Bryan

Protesters chant against HB 601 outside of the Florida House. | Fight Back! News/staff

Tallahassee, FL – On February 20, approximately 30 students and community organizers mobilized to the Florida Capitol building to hold a press conference and speak out against HB 601. This bill seeks to prevent any meaningful oversight of police misconduct by making it unlawful to form citizen police review boards or any organized body to review the conduct of police departments.

The mobilization was part of a larger week of action called by National Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR).

Elijah Ruby of SDS opened the event, stating, “Progressive student movements are under attack in Florida. The legislation attacking civilian police review boards are a part of an agenda that is trying to reverse the small victories our movements have won since the George Floyd uprising.”

HB 601 stands to eradicate any possibility of community oversight of police conduct in the state of Florida, which would render countless communities across the state incapable of having a say in the actions of police agencies. Michael Sampson of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, a NAARPR affiliate, spoke to this in his statement at the event: “SB 576/HB 601 is a direct attack on the movement against police crimes and seeks to take away the people’s democratic right to have input in how our Black and working-class communities are policed. It is important for us to stand up against this attack, continue the fight for community control of the police and demand they kill the bill.”

Though HB 601 was the focus of the event, organizers and speakers made the connection between this bill and other reactionary bills clear. The Florida legislature seeks to attack any and all peoples’ movements, from LGBTQ freedom of self-expression and dignity, to the right of activists to stand with Palestine in the face of U.S.-backed Israeli genocide.

Robert Lee, organizer with Tallahassee Food Not Bombs, stated, “HB 601 is a direct attack on the people of Florida, and especially on the most marginalized among us such as Black, Latino, and the LGBTQ communities. This bill, as well as HB 1639, which directly attacks the trans community, and HB465 targeting pro-Palestinian student organizations are all intertwined just as our struggles are intertwined.”

After speaking with press and making speeches, attendees entered the Florida Capitol building to confront Representative Wyman Duggan, author of HB 601. Duggan is on the Ways and Means Committee, which was scheduled to meet that day at 3 p.m. Protesters were barred from entering the meeting for having signs saying, “Defend freedom of speech” and “Community oversight of police now!”.

As the meeting began and legislators made opening remarks, the crowd chanted “Duggan, Duggan, shame on you! Black lives matter, too!” and “Down with HB 601!” outside the meeting. Protesters were roughly escorted out of the building by capitol police, with some officers manhandling and shoving them into cramped elevators. The crowd reconvened outside the building to continue chanting and was eventually told by police that they were barred from entering the House building for the rest of the day.

HB 601 remains on the agenda despite the actions taken by students and community members at the capitol. However, this has not discouraged further organization around the bill. Tallahassee Community Action Committee has already planned another rally at the Historic Florida Capitol building on Saturday February 24 at 3 p.m. – seeking to continue the momentum of the week of action and see an end to the attacks on community power and community oversight.

#TallahasseeFL #InJusticeSystem #PoliceBrutality #CommunityControlOfPolice #HB601 #SDS #NAARPR #Feature