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After hearing from Jax activist, UN committee says US should ensure right to peaceful assembly

Ben Frazier, founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, led a unity protest on the steps of City Hall on Monday, May 16, 2022.
Will Brown
Ben Frazier, founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, led a unity protest on the steps of City Hall on Monday, May 16, 2022.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is singling out a Florida "anti-riot" law among its areas of concern that it says need addressing by the federal government.

The committee heard earlier this month from Jacksonville civil rights activist Ben Frazier, with the Northside Coalition. Frazier traveled to Geneva to speak before the committee, as WJCT News reported, on Florida's new law, HB1, which redefines a riot and enforces stricter penalties on those deemed to be rioters.

In a draft version of its concluding observations, as first reported by News4Jax, the committee said it is concerned about "increasing legislative measures and initiatives at the state level that unduly restrict the right to peaceful assembly following anti-racism protests in recent years, such as the HB1 Combating Public Disorder law in Florida."

In response to laws like Florida's, the committee recommends that the U.S.:

  • "Take all necessary measures to ensure the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly without any discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin."
  • "Investigate allegations of excessive use of force during peaceful protests and of harassment, surveillance and threats against human rights defenders of racial and ethnic minorities by law enforcement officers."
  • "Develop and adopt legislation and strengthen its measures to protect human rights defenders, including those working on the rights of racial and ethnic minorities, Indigenous Peoples, and non-citizens."

The advance, unedited report, published Tuesday, also outlines the committee's recommendations on a range of issues including combating systemic racism, gun violence and voting rights.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP