Citizens voice concerns at FL Speaks tour stop

Initiative gathers public testimony of civil rights violations

12/19/2013, 9 a.m.
Florida has become ground zero for cases involving injustice and violations of citizens’ rights. Just consider recent examples like the ...

Florida has become ground zero for cases involving injustice and violations of citizens’ rights. Just consider recent examples like the Trayvon Martin murder by George Zimmerman, the stand your ground failed defense of Marissa Alexander and the political disenfranchisement of millions of former inmates, senior citizens and college students in the last several elections and it’s clear that life is neither just nor equal for many residents of the Sunshine State.

With that in mind, the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida [DBCF] and the office of State Senator Dwight Bullard have joined forces, going across the State of Florida to host a series of town hall assemblies that allow residents to publicly speak to their anger, frustration and the hardships they have been forced to endure as a result of violations to their civil liberties, racial profiling, excessive use of law enforcement in public schools and the lack of accessible health care. Last weekend, Bullard and DBCF President Henry Crespo, Sr. (Miami-Dade County), along with DBCF First Vice President Lydia Hudson (Hillsborough County), were here in Miami-Dade County recording public testimonies and allowing individuals to share their concerns.

The town hall meeting was held in Overtown at the Historic St. Agnes’ Episcopal

Church. About 50 people attended along with State Representative Cynthia Stafford, State Representative Perry Thurston, who recently declared himself as a candidate for Florida Attorney General, and Congressman Joe Garcia, along with a representative from the office of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

“This tour came out of the injustice we witnessed in July when the murderer of a 17-year-old Black youth [Trayvon Martin] was allowed to walk away scot-free,” Bullard said. “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. This tour is about doing something substantive and recording hundreds of untold stories — homeowners who have been victimized by predatory lending and ex-offenders who cannot get their rights restored and therefore cannot get their lives back on track are just a few examples. Florida currently stands on the wrong side of history and many in Tallahassee have been ignoring our cries for help. When we’re done collecting these testimonies and take them to the Capitol it will be proof positive that our laws and policies are oppressive and need to be changed.”

DBCF steps up its game

“What’s happening here in Miami-Dade County, that is violations of citizens’ civil rights, is occurring throughout the State of Florida,” Crespo said. “Some may think things are happening in isolation but they aren’t. We have already held similar town hall meetings in Manatee County, Sarasota County, Orange County, and the Panhandle covering Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. Their testimonies are often similar. The DBCF is a political organization that’s called to empower people who in turn raise their collective voice and tell their elected officials that they will and must work and speak on our behalf.”

When members of the community were invited to share their stories, their testimonies varied both in terms of topic and severity. Here are just a few examples. Carolyn Wilson talked about those who suffer from mental illness regularly having their civil rights denied. Steven Carroll alleged an incident of false arrest and his frustration over local police not being held more accountable to the public. Kevin Persaud, a University of Florida engineering student, said he was attacked by others because of racial discrimination, and then he was charged by local police. The University also refused to grant him his diploma despite him being just 10 days away from graduation and having already fulfilled all of his academic requirements. N.J. Gilbert was critical of City and County policies that continue to either eliminate or give very few opportunities to qualified Black contractors.

Garcia pledged his continued support to the efforts of the Florida Speaks Tour while Stafford emphasized the importance of every story being shared and chronicled.

“In year’s past we marched and held sit-ins,” Crespo said. “Now we may need to add lawsuits to our list if we want to invoke real and positive change. Too many of us are still sitting on the sidelines.”

The next stop for the tour will be Volusia County in early 2014. Their state convention is scheduled for May 2014. For more information go to www.democraticblackcaucus.org.