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Miami passes 'disorderly conduct' law for public parks, despite free speech concerns

Miami Commissioner Sabina Covo was the sole dissenting vote on an ordinance that prohibits "disorderly conduct" in city parks.
City of Miami
via YouTube
Miami Commissioner Sabina Covo was the sole dissenting vote on an ordinance that prohibits "disorderly conduct" in city parks.

The City of Miami now prohibits "disorderly conduct" and "loud and aggressive" behavior in public parks with a newly passed ordinance, despite concerns that the law may infringe on First Amendment activity.

At a Thursday morning city commission meeting, elected officials discussed a new ordinance that was said to take aim at violence and untoward behavior in city-owned parks. The item was initially sponsored by Commissioners Manolo Reyes, Joe Carollo and Sabina Covo.

"What I don't want in the parks is what we have seen — [people] that are disruptive, they can get into violence or anything that goes against the safety of the people that are using the parks," Reyes said from the dais during the meeting.

Though she originally co-sponsored the ordinance, Commissioner Covo withdrew her sponsorship on Thursday, citing concerns that she said others had brought to her attention as to the law's potential effect on speech and protest.

READ MORE: How limits on demonstration at the Florida Capitol affect free speech

"When I was briefed I understood that this was violence in parks, that this was a situation where we could have real misconduct. And I am getting information that it could limit free speech and protest in parks. That's why I have a conflict now with it," Covo said from the dais.

During public comment, local Democratic Party activist Thomas Kennedy brought up First Amendment concerns. "I think it's way too broad," he said. "I think it's an assault on free speech. I think it should be killed."

After the pushback, the ordinance was amended to limit its scope to prohibit actions including "loud and aggressive behavior" — rather than "loud or aggressive behavior" — as well as "physical altercations," persistent and excessive shouting and any behavior that disrupts other people's ability to use a public park.

The item passed 4 to 1, with Commissioner Covo voting against it despite the amendment.

The ordinance comes nearly two years after Florida's "Anti-Riot" law, which was pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, was blocked by the courts. The law was criticized for being overly broad with its definition of riots and public disturbances, and was cited by a United Nations committee for restricting free speech.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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