Sunday, April 14, 2024

DeSantis OKs bills halting police civilian oversight, stopping bystanders from getting close


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills Friday morning that would prohibit civilian oversight boards from investigating police misconduct and stop people from getting too close to first responders doing their jobs.

The governor received both bills (HB 601 and SB 184) on Wednesday and held the signing ceremony on Friday in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in St. Augustine. During the ceremony, DeSantis portrayed the bills as efforts to protect law enforcement officers from people who wanted to abuse them publicly.

“They’re not free to use law enforcement as political piñatas,” DeSantis said, referring to the civilian police oversight boards. “They’re not free to create false narratives. They’re not free to try to make it miserable to live or to work in uniform, and these things are highly political.”

In Florida, there are 21 such boards and half of them were formed since the protests over the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, according to a 2022 report. The boards are in cities including Miami, Tallahassee, Orlando, and Tampa.

Under HB 601, which will go into effect on July 1, the boards won’t be able to investigate complaints against law enforcement officers or correctional officers. Instead, sheriffs or chiefs of police will have the power to appoint overnight boards composed of three to seven members.

Equal Ground, a social justice organization aimed at protecting the rights of Black Floridians, bashed DeSantis’ approval of the bill.

“By banning independent citizen review boards, Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislators in Tallahassee are once again taking away the freedom of countless Floridians, whose voices are being silenced and whose safety is now at risk,” wrote Genesis Robinson, interim executive director of the group, in a statement.

He continued: “We know that civilian review boards are often the last line of defense for Black people to hold rogue law enforcement officials accountable for misconduct. Disbanding police review boards contradicts the ongoing efforts to reform policing practices and address systemic issues within law enforcement.”

But DeSantis and the main sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Wyman Duggan of Duval County, insisted that the law wouldn’t abolish the boards and that they could still discuss law enforcement policies.

“What they cannot do is use them as a vehicle to persecute our law enforcement officers, which to many of these organizations is the only utility that they think that organization has. So, when you hear people saying that these boards and commissions are being prohibited or abolished, that’s not true,” Duggan said during the bill signing.

However, the oversight boards can’t subpoena witnesses and documents, and none have any actual disciplinary power.


During the legislative session, HB 601 prompted a protest from activists infuriated with the move to strip civilian oversight boards of their power, of which the activists said the boards had little to begin with.

The other bill DeSantis signed Friday prohibits people from getting within 25 feet of a first responder “engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty” if the first responder has warned the person to stay away. The infraction would be a misdemeanor. SB184 also garnered backlash from groups such as the First Amendment Foundation, which called the bill blatantly unconstitutional in a statement Thursday.

“We appreciate the importance of protecting first responders but are concerned that the bill prevents citizens from going near or filming first responders within 25 feet if told not to approach,” the First Amendment Foundation wrote. “This bill would undermine citizen journalists and could allow for undocumented police misconduct.”

This article originally appeared in the Florida Phoenix on April 12th, 2024.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Students for Justice in Palestine files civil rights complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill is facing a federal complaint filed on behalf of students and faculty members who say the university has systematically discriminated against Palestinian students and their allies in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Palestine Legal filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice April 5, on behalf of graduate student Kylie Broderick and professor Elyse Crystall, a member and faculty advisor to Students for Justice in Palestine respectively. In a letter and 95-page collection of exhibits, the group outlines what it says is preferential treatment of Israeli students and their allies and targeting of pro-Palestine students and groups from the attack late last year, through campus protests around the conflict and continuing to the current day.

The group is asking for an investigation into discrimination that may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint is one of a number of such complaints Palestine Legal has filed on behalf of students and faculty involved in protests revolving around the most recent Hamas-Israel conflict. In the last few months the group has taken action against Emory University in Georgia, Columbia University in New York and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

In the complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill, the group said the discriminatory treatment began shortly after the October 7 Hamas attack.

“On October 10, 2023, the Dean of Students’ office sent an email to all current and former students whose birthplaces were listed ‘in or around Israel’ in UNC records to extend support and resources—including mental health counseling and academic accommodation,” wrote Zoha Khalili, senior staff attorney with Palestine Legal, in the letter. “According to students we have spoken with, several Palestinian students received this message because their birthplace was listed as Israel. No other Palestinian students reported receiving this message.

On October 12 and 13, the group wrote, then-Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Chief Diversity Officer Leah Cox met with members of North Carolina Hillel for two hours. They then sent follow-up letters to the campus saying “senseless acts of terror in Israel by Hamas are horrifying.”

University administration sent no similar messages acknowledging “the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians by the Israeli government,” the letter said. Similarly, the group said, the administration said there is “no place for antisemitism or prejudice on our campus” without similarly condemning racism against Muslims, which was also on display as the conflict took shape or offering the same support and resources to Palestinian students who were impacted.

“By reducing the issue to one that affects students based on their religious identities, the chancellor omitted the ways national origin also shapes how people, particularly Palestinians, are affected by the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, irrespective of their religious affiliation or lack thereof,” the group wrote in its complaint.

In a written statement to Newsline Tuesday, a UNC-Chapel Hill spokesman said the university “has not been notified by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about a complaint filed by or on behalf of Palestinian students.”

We will cooperate fully with any requests for information from OCR,” the statement read. “And remain committed to promoting a safe and equitable environment to all members of the Carolina community that is free from harassment and discrimination.”

Objections to comments by UNC-Chapel Hill trustee 

The eight-page complaint also alleges the university has ignored bullying and harassment of Muslim and Palestinian students and those protesting against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and attacks on Gaza.

University leaders and members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees mischaracterized on-campus protests on the issue, the complaint alleges, singling out UNC-Chapel Hill Trustee Marty Kotis specifically.

Kotis, like all members of the board of trustees, are political appointees of the North Carolina General Assembly’s Republican majority. He is also a former member of the UNC System Board of Trustees, whose members are overwhelmingly conservative.

“Kotis said in an October 12 email referencing the campus rally for Palestine that had been held that day that ‘it’s been reported that some of the speeches today were given in Arabic and the need [sic] to translate those to ensure there were not calls for or threats of violence,'” the group wrote in its complaint.

A headshot of Marty Kotis, member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
 Marty Kotis, member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.

The group cites similar emails expressing concern about the use of Arabic from Frederick E. Seller, vice president for Safety & Emergency Operations for the UNC System and former State Rep. Jon Hardister.

“The baseless association of the Arabic language with threats reflects longstanding anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tropes,” the group wrote in its complaint.

References to needing a “threat assessment” were particularly disturbing because students involved in the protest movement had reported receiving their own harassment and death threats online, the complaint reads.

Shortly after the cited email, Kotis called for the university to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine, to end any official university recognition and funding of the student group.

Speaking to Newsline Tuesday, Kotis reiterated his stance, citing the fact that the group recently disrupted a board of trustees meeting. Kotis said he wasn’t surprised to find himself cited in the group’s complaint.

“If I’m at odds with people who call America a colonizer nation or call for death to America, great,” Kotis said. “I’m happy to be at odds with a group that wants to wage a global intifada on American soil because I’m completely opposed to their ideology.”

This article originally appeared in the NC Newsline on April 10th, 2024.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

DeSantis signs tougher penalties for retail theft, ‘porch piracy,’ into law


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday boosting penalties for retail theft, including sanctions for “porch pirates” who steal deliveries from outside people’s homes.

The governor’s office pointed to reports from retailers estimating losses as $112 billion during 2022, with hot spots in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

Senate committee advances changes to juvenile law reform measure

By William Ford

A Senate panel recommended several changes Wednesday to resolve differences on separate juvenile justice reform bills that have been moving through the General Assembly.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee advanced House Bill 814 to the full Senate with a few provisions that coincide with the Senate version of the legislation — including that children ages 10 to 12 could be sent to juvenile court if charged for a third-degree sex offense, aggravated animal cruelty and certain firearm offenses.

Louisiana might tap into state savings to build more juvenile correctional facilities

Louisiana legislative leaders are giving thought to withdrawing money from a state savings account to build and refurbish juvenile justice facilities around the state. 

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, filed legislation this week to allow lawmakers to withdraw up to $400 million from Louisiana’s Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund before July 1, 2025. Juvenile justice campuses would be prioritized if they tap into the money, said House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, and state Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro.

Monday, April 8, 2024

World Marks Six Months of 'Relentless Death and Destruction' in Gaza

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his call for an "immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the unconditional release of all hostages, the protection of civilians, and the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid."

 Peace and human rights advocates on Sunday renewed calls for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and an increase in lifesaving  humanitarian aid for its starving people as the embattled enclave  marked six months since the start of Israel's genocidal retaliation  for the October 7 attacks.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Puerto Ricans take to the streets against Kamala Harris’s visit

By Peoples' Dispatch staff

Puerto Ricans protested Harris’ visit citing the ongoing US occupation of Puerto Rico and support to Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people

On Friday, March 22, Kamala Harris marked her first visit to Puerto Rico since becoming Vice President of the United States to attend a Democratic Party fundraiser, and was met with mass protests. 

In an embarrassing gaff, Harris spent a moment clapping along to a protest song before quickly freezing up after an aide translated it for her. The lyrics called out the longtime US occupation of Puerto Rico: “We want to know, Kamala, what did you come here for? We want to know what you think of the colony.”

UN Security Council demands ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza, ending months-long deadlock

This was the Council’s first explicit call for an immediate ceasefire since Israel began a military offensive in the Gaza Strip following last October’s brutal attack by Hamas and other Palestinian groups against settlements in southern Israel, in which over 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage.

Israel’s military operation has since reportedly claimed over 32,000 Palestinian lives, mostly women and children, displaced about 1.7 million and left massive destruction across the enclave.

The 15-member Security Council has failed in its four previous attempts to adopt a resolution on the Gaza crisis, most recently this past Friday, when permanent members China and Russia vetoed a proposal led by the United States (another permanent member, along with France and the UK rounding out the so-called ‘P-5’).

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

DeSantis signs law prohibiting the homeless from sleeping in public spaces

One Democrat says the law “strips away the humanity of those enduring homelessness”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday that will prohibit cities and counties from allowing individuals and families to sleep and camp on public property.

“It will help maintain and ensure that Florida streets are clean and that Florida streets are safe for our residents,” DeSantis said at a press conference held at a Greek restaurant in South Miami Beach.

DeSantis once again emphasized that he does not want any community in Florida to resemble cities on America’s west coast that have had problems handling their homeless population in recent years, first and foremost San Francisco.

‘Tough-on-crime’ policies are back in some places that had reimagined criminal justice

Several states are considering or have already enacted legislation undoing more progressive policies.

Fueled by public outrage over the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and other high-profile incidents of police violence, a seismic shift swept across the United States shortly afterward, with a wave of initiatives aimed at reining in police powers and reimagining criminal-legal systems.

Yet less than half a decade later, political leaders from coast to coast are embracing a return to “tough-on-crime” policies, often undoing the changes of recent years.