Tuesday, 31 January 2023

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That’s it Dearies, Auntie is going to jail!

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Well, not quite yet, of course I’m being overly dramatic – it’s a gift that I’m all too happy to share with you!!  I only have one foot in jail.  Whether I will join the many Florida felons who lose their voting rights all depends on what the Florida legislature does with our esteemed Governor’s “Combating Public Disorder” bill, which is being fast-tracked in Tallahassee at this time.  

First of all, Mr. “Build that Wall” DeSantis wouldn’t know combat if it bit him in the patootie … but that’s a topic for a separate column about out-of-touch Ivy League political opportunists using tough language to make up for their own lack of actual grit.  Right now, this is all about me and my future life of crime.

The hypocrisy alone is worth mentioning: The text of this bill was written over the summer - clearly to target civil rights – i.e. Black Lives Matter - protesters … but now the siege on our Capitol by right wing domestic terrorists is being used to justify an unprecedented attack on our right to redress our grievances. 

Second of all … we already have laws that prohibit rioting, looting, stealing, assault, etc.  Think of this new law rather as the new loitering law that allows law enforcement a tremendous amount of discretion in determining what is ‘disorderly’ and who should be locked up without a key … or at least without bail.  “Disorderly conduct” with a political motive (i.e. stop killing black people) seems to be so much more dangerous to Mr. DeSantis and his friends than normal disorderly conduct.  And those organizers, who managed to get out thousands of people to protest for equal justice now find their activities may make them subject to arrest – all at the discretion of the arrestor, of course.  To make them afraid to do their work, the new bill basically holds them responsible if some people in the crowd become violent or destructive.  Anyone who ‘encourages’ a ‘disorderly protest’ of more than 9 people can be arrested and charged with a felony.

So let’s dramatize this to show how it would work in the real world:  I’ll play the intrepid Activist Auntie with her pink granny sneakers – and I’ll add a bullhorn for effect.  With that bullhorn, I motivate nine of my best lady friends to descend on Tallahassee and demand to know who is financing this national crack down on protesters.  (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Florida is not the only state that decided to try to deny people their first amendment rights … a well-financed campaign facilitated by national groups that feel aggrieved by the success of environmental and civil rights protesters are putting major mullah into these efforts.)

After tea and prayer, we march onto the capital in a more or less orderly fashion, and I yell disorderly things … sentences that end in participles … that the Tallahassee police find offensive … and disorderly. Chances are, nothing is going to happen to us.  Add to my entourage of ten rowdy aunties, however, 500 students of mixed racial background, and you’ll see a whole new level of enforcement.  Not only that, should at the end of the protest, some people decide to smash a window or should someone get hurt, I could be arrested for ‘encouraging a riot’ even though I did nothing worse than dangle a few participles.  And no matter how hard you guys tried (and I know you would), you couldn’t bail me out.  That means I would have to trade my carefully selected outfit for one of those orange prison jumpsuits and wait until they get around to me. Orange is the new black, I hear … but still.  Can anyone please feed my cat?

Think I’m kidding?  Think this wouldn’t happen in the ‘Land of the Free’ where one of our most prized liberties is our ability to assemble and redress our grievances with our government?  No, they’re actually going for it.  We all know this law would not be fairly enforced against all protesters.  But it will be enforced against those who protest pipelines, racial injustice, environmental degradation or the school to prison pipeline. And it’ll take years for constitutional challenges to wind themselves through the courts.  In the meantime, ALEC just might get people re-elected.  Bills like these are not unique to Florida. There are seventeen states (and counting) in which ‘conservative’ legislatures are trying to pass bills discouraging protest and insulating people from liability. 

Another part of the bill absolves motorists from liability of they drive into protesters who block a roadway.  Standing in the street is ‘disorderly’ – the victim was therefore part of a ‘riot’ and if someone hits them with their pickup truck, it’s their own damn fault.  Under the new definition, a protest that compels people to act a certain way (i.e. drive around the protesters) is a riot … because in Florida, evidently a person’s right to injure their fellow human beings is more important than the right to protest injustice.

Call me cynical, but I’m really not surprised that the Governor would go after civil rights protesters in Florida after NOTHING major happened here during the summer protests and pretend that it’s about protecting us from Q-Anon, who actually caused the deaths of 5 people.  It’s par for the course.  I peddle my own little conspiracy theory which holds that people will do pretty much anything to stay in power if left unchecked, and the law or the constitution don’t protect themselves. The crowning glory of hypocrisy, however, is that the bill also aims to take away local control from cities and municipalities.  The holy cow of conservatism – local control – suddenly doesn’t mean anything if a city decides to prioritize crime prevention over law enforcement.  This awful bill allows anyone to challenge city budgets if they allocate funding away from police to social services. Like that isn’t a right afforded locally elected officials.  Similarly, cities lose their liability protection usually associated with governments if they interfere with law enforcement during a riot.  I don’t even know what that means … but it conjures up city police demanding masked and unmarked ‘law enforcement’ to identify themselves when whisking away protesters to undisclosed locations.

Local control was always so important to ‘conservatives’ … until of city residents of mixed backgrounds started living together in peace and harmony and no longer fell for the divisive rhetoric of racial, immigrant and religious minority scares.  The Governors pseudo-conservative narrative’ pits ‘bad lawless city folk’ against the ‘good law-abiding country/suburban folk.’ Surely this has nothing to do with the way these populations usually vote … or with the way COVID-19 vaccines are distributed in this state.

And I learned a new word:  Dog Whistle.  Well, I actually knew that word before … it’s a whistle only dogs can hear. It’s used for training your faithful canine companion.  In racist circles, it’s a word that only racists understand.  A word doesn’t make you sound outrageously racist before not-so-racist people so you have plausible deniability – but everyone knows what you really mean … wink, wink.  So for all those who aren’t as cool as Auntie … the words ‘city’ and ‘urban’ refer to black and brown populations.  ‘Law abiding citizen’ or ‘hard-working American’ is supposed to conjure up the image of a white Christian person.  One that works for a living … unlike city folk. That’s what the outgoing administration and the scores of politicians who violated their oaths of office meant when they said that the ‘city votes’ were fraudulent.  Anyway … in this context, I guess cities – including city police departments - are bad.

Seriously folks, we need to oppose this bill with all we have.  Alternatively, as we all know that you cannot bail me out of jail, I’ll expect you’ll be sharing my cell.  The bill hasn’t passed yet!  Here’s how you can let the responsible lawmakers know that our country’s Civil Rights icons have fought too long and too hard to let Mr. DeSantis and his fear mongering take it all away.  We are literally standing on the shoulders of the giants of the Civil Rights Movement … who were pelted with bottles, attacked by dogs and hosed down.  Let’s make sure they would be proud.

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