Recent demonstrations in Miami in solidarity with a sudden, organic uprising in Cuba against the regime's oppressive dictatorship has prompted significant debate.
Many Republican and Cuban American politicians supported Gov. Ron DeSantis' recent HB1 legislation aimed at quelling Black protesters aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement. Signed into Florida law in April, HB1 prohibits protests that block roadways. It is the very definition of hypocrisy that not one Cuban American protester who blocked major arteries were arrested. Many Republican politicians supported the demonstrations. That dichotomy was not lost on Black Americans or Democrats. When a huge uproar arose over the double standard, DeSantis was eventually compelled to a make a statement asking protesters not to block highways.
I saw several clashes arise on social media between Black and Cuban Americans. Cubans felt Black Americans were being hypocritical for criticizing their protests, and Black Americans thought the governor and Cuban American politicians were being two-faced for turning a blind eye to HB1. The debate was inflamed by a Black Lives Matter social media post that parroted the Cuban government's statement blaming the U.S. embargo for all its troubles.
In a recent trial, a wise judge advised me to take a deep breath. It was good advice. I think we should all take a deep breath and try to understand our neighbors. Black Americans need to acknowledge the pain of Cuban Americans. Imagine having to flee your homeland and leave everything behind because of an oppressive dictatorship. Imagine that same oppressive regime incarcerating hundreds for peacefully protesting the oppression, including some of your family members. As Black Americans we should support protest against oppression in any country of the world, because we have tasted that bitter pill for hundreds of years. But our Cuban American neighbors need to acknowledge our pain, too. For more than 400 years, we have been enslaved, beaten, killed, jailed, shot down, prevented from living in certain areas and have suffered every kind of oppression and abuse.
In my mind, all Americans should support protest. This country was founded on protests against an oppressive British regime. In fact, the first person killed in the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent. He is now lauded as a patriot. To the British, he was an unruly thug involved in a violent protest. Under HB1, he would have been arrested because his protest was not peaceful. The protesters threw debris and snowballs at British soldiers. Some were armed with wood staffs. Historians differ on whether Attucks attacked British soldiers with his staff or was just leaning on it. Regardless, the protesters, because of their violent actions, would all be considered criminals under DeSantis’ new law.
I believe in peaceful protest. I believe in free speech and the American Constitution. I believe that Black Lives Matter protesters should be free to protest peacefully. I equally believe that Cuban Americans should be supported in their demonstrations against a regime that prohibits free speech, incarcerates protesters and rules by fear.
I also believe that DeSantis and his Republican cohorts are hypocrites, and that HB1 is a law aimed solely at Black Americans, one that violates free speech and the right to peacefully protest. And when the first test of its enforcement presented itself, the establishment refrained from jailing last week’s protesters for fear of alienating the Cuban American voting bloc. It's not lost on me that if Black Americans had blocked major highways, police would have beaten, tear gassed and jailed them, and DeSantis and his cronies would have been proud of their new law that was used to squelch Black voices. This country has a history of selective enforcement – that disgraceful history continues under the DeSantis administration.
Asian Americans, Black Americans, Cuban Americans and white Americans – all Americans – should protest HB1 and the current landslide of laws meant to block protests and restrict voting. Protest informed the genesis of this country, and something so important that our Founding Fathers enshrined it in our constitution.
Reginald J. Clyne is a Miami trial lawyer who has practiced in some of the largest law firms in the United States. Clyne has been in practice since 1987 and tries cases in both state and federal court. He has lived in Africa, Brazil, Honduras and Nicaragua.