The Palmetto Expressway in Southwest Miami-Dade, a key roadway for tens of thousands of drivers every day, was shut down in both directions Tuesday by protesters who were showing solidarity with the civil unrest unfolding in Cuba.
The protests shined a light not just on the situation in Cuba, but also on one of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ most controversial bits of legislation, the anti-riot bill he signed into law in April that critics say is a blatant attack on free speech sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests.
Specifically, it underscored the hypocrisy of DeSantis’ law because, if sections of the law weren’t enforced yesterday as a major South Florida highway was crippled by a protest, then what is the purpose of his much-hyped new sanctions?
The Miami Herald wondered as much in a scathing editorial that called out the Governor.
This section from the editorial uses DeSantis’ own words to question why this new law was not put into effect yesterday, as thousands of people were inconvenienced by the actions of a few hundred people:
Here’s what the governor said when he signed the blatantly un-American bill into law: “Just think about it, you’re driving home from work and, all of a sudden, you have people out there shutting down a highway, and we worked hard to make sure that didn’t happen in Florida.”
But it did happen in Florida, Gov. DeSantis. Demonstrators shut down State Road 826 in both directions Tuesday in solidarity with their counterparts in Cuba. Police obliged and redirected traffic. Mercifully, no one roared through the crowd in a vehicle.
DeSantis’ law makes blocking a highway — like the Palmetto — a felony offense. Miami-Dade police did issue a statement criticizing the protesters for disrupting traffic, yet no arrests were made and police officers even blockaded the highway in both directions to protect the demonstrators.
More than a few people on Twitter wondered how the situation had played out if, instead of Cuban-Americans protesting, it were black people out on the highway causing a massive traffic problem.
@MiamiDadePD How is this a peaceful protest, when people are on the highway? Isn’t that against the law? Wow! Just wondering if this was a BLM protest will my people get the same treatment? Every HUMAN deserves to be protected. Why aren’t MDCPD taking action?— Deloris Bess (@bess_deloris) July 13, 2021
HB1 was designed to criminalize Black protests for justice; if he & the GOP legislature could explicitly state that in the bill they would of.— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) July 13, 2021
DeSantis was asked about the enforcement, or lack thereof, of the law at an event yesterday with Cuban dissidents. He dodged the question.
The Latino Rebels blog lambasted DeSantis, calling yesterday’s protests and the lack of any police action evidence that his anti-riot law is simply a political weapon the Governor will decide to use as he wishes:
We now have a governor in Florida who pushes politically motivated legislation and enforces it selectively to his political convenience. This is incredibly disturbing and not how a democracy should operate. Floridians shouldn’t be intimidated from exercising their first amendment by hypocritical politicians.
The Herald’s op-ed ended on this particularly memorable verse:
Honestly, we would have been more impressed if he had just responded: “Nah, the Miami-Dade demonstrators seeking human rights in Cuba have nothing to fear from my anti-riot law. We created it to subdue Black folks seeking human rights in the United States.”