New Florida Legislation Threatens Freedom of Speech and Law Enforcement Accountability

We are living in a time where social justice movements have brought to light, the systemic injustices people of color face every day. As a society, we should be moving towards more transparency and accountability, especially when it comes to those who protect and serve. However, in a bizarre twist, lawmakers in many states across America are pushing legislation that criminalizes filming police actions. Proposed legislation in Senate Bill 1126 and House Bill 1539 threaten individual freedom of speech and the public’s right to hold law enforcement accountable. It is a concerning development that is bound to trigger outrage as it is an attack on transparency and individual liberties. After all, transparency and disclosure are pillars of a functioning democracy, and any attempt to impede that transparency is an attack on our individual liberties. It’s important to remember that the Data Transparency Act paved the way for federal entities to report their spending and other activities. Similarly, we must fight to protect our right to hold those in power accountable and ensure transparency at every level of government.

Hence, this proposed legislation of witness intimidation is a glaring contradiction to the notion of free speech and accountability. The law would make it illegal for anyone to film the police, even if they are engaged in unlawful and unethical conduct while on duty. It is unnecessary to say this law jeopardizes not only the democratization of the police system but will put citizens’ lives at risk. The Bill calls for a prison sentence of up to five years and a significant fine for those who violate it. It is evident that the bill’s lawmakers either misunderstand the importance of documenting police misconduct or outright disregard the importance of holding their law enforcement accountable (which they rarely do in an effective manner anyhow).

If this bill is enacted into law, it would not only hinder individuals from exercising freedom of expression but also protect police officers who deliberately engage in illegal, harmful, and unethical behavior. Body cameras worn by police officers help establish accountability, but they cannot be the only means of staying accountable. Banning citizens from filming police is a step in the wrong direction, and instead of improving transparency, this bill will only lead to chaos and complete mistrust between the police force and the public. The public and law enforcement should work in unison to build trust and restore faith in the police system. To do that, the police must be made answerable for their actions, and the public’s right to record them should be protected.

The issue of law enforcement officers targeting and using brute force against communities of color has been a boiling point for the country in recent years (and I am certain it had been taking place, just not recorded). The pervasive presence of video cameras on cell phones and other devices has helped to bring scenes of police brutality to public attention. Despite these exposures, many attacks continue to occur out of sight of surveillance cameras, putting the public at greater risk. If we are to build responsible community policing, we have to hold law enforcement accountable for their activities. It is high time we recognized that police brutality is not just an outlier in the law enforcement system, but a systemic problem that exists in many law enforcement agencies.

All I will say is this, this proposed intimidation legislation is an open assault on American rights! In a moment when law enforcement agencies are confronting calls to reform, these bills represent a significant setback by criminalizing the act of filming the same officers who are calling for public trust. Citizens filming police officers on duty serves as a critical tool for accountability and transparency, and this bill threatens this essential right. It is critical for public officials to hear their constituents and understand their needs, and the needs of their community, rather than pushing for legislation that only perpetuates the mistreatment of marginalized communities. State lawmakers must prioritize preserving transparency and accountability within the police force, and not muzzle citizens from exercising their rights.

It is truly becoming more and more exhausting having to fight for shit that should not even be an issue for debate — especially one that will support immoral, unethical, and hateful behavior. Two steps forward, fifty steps back. Florida is going to hell in a handbasket!

Dr. Pamela Gurley, D.M.

Speaker | Author | CEO | Writer. The Un@pologetic Entrepreneur. Feat’d in Forbes, on Good Morning Washington & Fox5Atl. Connect on IG & Twitter: @iamdrpgurley