Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown, Co-Founders of Black Voters Matter and April England-Albright, Legal Director of Black Voters Matter issued the following statement Following the Arrest of the Florida 14 for Protesting at the State Capitol 

On Wednesday, Black Voters Matter along with our local partners and student organizations gathered at the Florida state capitol for a sit-in because the rights of tens of thousands of Black Floridians are under attack. The Republican-led legislature continues to pass one oppressive bill after another designed to push Black and marginalized communities into the shadows. In recent months, we have seen a slew of legislation that criminalizes basic care and concern for human beings.  

Peaceful protesters were met by capitol police inside the Governor’s office which resulted in fourteen people being arrested. The “Florida fourteen” were detained by police and released early Thursday morning. Our protest was in opposition to multiple bills that all passed committee including HB999, the anti-diversity, equity, and inclusion bill; SB7050, which increases fines on voting rights groups for registering voters. This bill also included language that allows the Governor to remain in his elected office while running for president. Also included, was HB1521, the expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

These actions by right-wing Republicans are dangerous and indicate that democracy in Florida is in a State of Emergency. BVM and our local partners like Dream Defenders, Florida Rising, Showing up for Racial Justice (SUJA) and others are fighting for justice so all Floridians have the freedom to vote, freedom to learn about Black history, diversity and equity, freedom of healthcare including reproductive rights, and the freedom to be who they are. 

 Florida’s Black residents are all too familiar with the racist and unjust consequences of exercising their first amendment rights. In 2013, in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, the state created the Dream Defenders rule to prevent protesters from occupying a government building overnight, which was followed by stricter more targeted anti-free speech laws that criminalize protesters for actions like what we saw play out yesterday.  Protest is a part of our history and we won’t stop exercising our right to free assembly to fight for what we deserve. 

 We are sending a very clear message to the Governor and the Florida legislature that we will not succumb to repeated threats against democracy.