To argue against Florida legislation that would make it a crime to get too close to police, former public defender Keon Hardemon left his seat at the Miami-Dade County Commission dais Tuesday and walked the floor with a tape measure.
“This isn’t good legislation,” Hardemon said from the second row of the chambers after measuring roughly 30 feet from where his fellow commissioners sat. “This is about maintaining control, really, of communities ... If an officer is telling you from this distance: Back up, you’re too close,’ then what’s too far?”
Commissioners sided with Hardemon, rejecting a resolution endorsing state legislation by Rep. Alex Rizo, R-Hialeah, that would create a misdemeanor offense for staying within 30 feet of officers for the purpose of provoking or harassing them.
Miami Beach this summer suspended a city version of the law mandating a 20-foot zone around police after multiple people filming officers were arrested under the ordinance. Rizo’s legislation failed to gain traction during the 2021 legislative session, and he submitted the same language for consideration in 2022.
Rizo said he’s open to debate on the appropriate buffer between police and citizens in his bill, which requires a warning before someone could be charged under the 30-foot provisions. Whatever the distance, he said that Florida law should allow an officer to tell someone to “step back” during a confrontation or when someone is trying to provoke an officer.
“Can’t we just tone the temperature a bit,” Rizo said in an interview. “Whatever you’re doing, do it at a distance. Whether it’s yelling or filming.”
Commissioner Joe Martinez sponsored the resolution endorsing Rizo’s legislation, House Bill 11. The resolution failed 5-7, with Jose “Pepe” Diaz, René Garcia, Sally Heyman and Rebeca Sosa joining Martinez in voting yes. Javier Souto was absent during the vote.
Rizo called the vote an example of how critics and media coverage of his proposal have created misleading impressions of the legislation, since commissioners voted unanimously to support the 2021 version of the bill in March. His bill attracted so little attention at the March 16 meeting that commissioners approved a resolution endorsing the legislation in an umbrella vote on multiple agenda items without discussion.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Sosa pointed to the shooting death of Hollywood police officer Yandy Chirino Sunday night after what police said was a scuffle with an 18-year-old suspected of trying to open car doors in the area.
“Everything we can do to protect those who protect us — protect me — is important,” Sosa said.
Francesca Menes, chair of the Black Collective advocacy group in Miami, said the Rizo legislation targets a vital check on police power: the ability to film officers up close.
“Who are the communities most likely to pull out their phones? The racial overtones are there,” Menes said in an interview. “It’s very clear who will be impacted by this.”