The Black Politico

Orlando politics and more -- from a black perspective

The significance of Jerry Demings as first Black Florida Sheriff’s Association President

One half of Orlando’s Power Couple Elected by Peers to serve as First Black President of Florida Sheriff’s Association

Orange County Sheriff Jerry L. Demings was elected last week to one of the nation’s largest and most successful associations in the nation. Florida Sheriff’s Association (FSA) will now be led by Demings who is the first Black officer to serve in that role. The election process took place in Washington D.C. on Capitol Hill.

Demings said, “It is truly an honor to be the new President of FSA,” Demings said. “I am thrilled to serve as the leader of such a worthy organization, and I will not take this opportunity lightly.”

Demings testified on Capitol Hill concerning a formula for anti-terrorism funding. The hearing and Demings’ testimony again brought the nation’s leaders attention to the tragedy in Orlando at Pulse Nightclub.

Because of Deming’s fight for the Central Florida area and its citizens, The Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative Grant Program is considering issuing the county funds that will benefit the Orlando area since we are a higher risk community, especially after the attack leaving 49 dead and 53 wounded at the nightclub in Downtown Orlando that attracts and caters to the GLBT community and the Latino community.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings being sworn in as FSA President in Washington D.C.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings being sworn in as FSA President in Washington D.C.

Demings will serve as President of the FSA for the upcoming coming year. His duties will include working with the Board of Directors to guide the efforts and direction of the FSA and its 67 Sheriffs. Demings is one-half of a law enforcement power couple who have served tirelessly in the Central Florida community.

Former Chief of Police, Val Demings, was appointed by Orlando’s Mayor Buddy Dyer as the first female Chief of the Orlando Police Department in 2007.

Among other things, she reduced crime in Orlando. Even with significant budget cuts, Chief Demings was able to do more with less and increase the safety of the citizens she served. Chief Demings is currently running for Congresswoman in Central Florida’s District 10.
Sheriff Demings graduated from Jones High School and went on to get his Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from Florida State University. He received his Masters of Business Administration from Orlando College, which is now Everest University. He is also a graduate of the 194th session of the FBI’s National Academy and studied at the Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Why Excessive Force Cases and the OPD Citizens Review Board Matter to the Black Community

In a candidate roundtable discussion at New Covenant Baptist Church last week in Orlando, I asked the State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s opponent what she did when she sat on the Orlando Police Department’s Citizens Review Board. “What 23 excessive force cases? I don’t know anything about 23 excessive force cases. What years are you referring to? What cases,” she asked? She continued, “If you can provide me with the cases, I’d be more than happy to tell you what I did!” She was obviously heated that I asked.

I can tell you what she did. Nothing.

She sat silent. Not just on the 23 excessive force cases because she said she wasn’t on the board during that time, but said she did serve during 2005 and 2006. I can’t find any records that shows she served during that time frame. When she sat on the board, she did nothing about the excessive force cases that came across her desk. Even if she wasn’t on the board during the time of the 23 excessive force cases, wouldn’t she know about those cases even as a local attorney? Well, she said she didn’t. I sat glazed over wondering what county she was intending to serve. Was it Seminole? Osceola and Orange? If so, she had no clue. These incidents were filed against the City police not the Sheriff’s department, which serves the county.

She went on to explain what the review board did, which was not clear and then was bailed out by someone helping to answer the question posed.
I asked again, “What did you do, when those cases came across your desk?” I didn’t think I was asking a question that would stump someone running for State Attorney. Especially, not someone running against a powerful State Attorney that has national recognition with introducing DNA into the courts and a co-prosecutor on the Casey Anthony trial. From Ashton’s opponent, I got an Earth, Wind and Fire song and dance but no answer.

Shortly after I moved to Orlando a very close friend was gunned down and killed in Washington Shores. To this day, we have no clue who did it. Not many in the community spoke about it. Joel was a graduate of FAMU, not into any “bad business” and worked full-time at Disney and part-time at a small business in Washington Shores. He was picking up his paycheck.
To our family, he was one of our very best friends and was my husband’s best friend.

I remember when we received the call. I was mopping the floor and a friend of ours called us and asked to speak with my husband. “He’s busy,” I said. “It’s important,” our friend responded. I knew right then it was more than I could handle. I made sure my husband took the call and while he spoke quietly in the other room I mopped the same tile over and over again knowing in just a few minutes he’d come out and tell me something I didn’t want to hear. I could feel how tense it was. Something was seriously wrong.

He broke the news. I cried for so long, I can’t remember when I stopped crying. I remember the windows were open, we’d just bought our first home and I couldn’t stop sobbing. I was afraid the neighbors would hear me and wonder exactly what kind of neighbors we would be. So loud and emotional and we had just moved in.

Who took Joel from us? Was it a gang initiation, being caught in the cross-fire of a gun battle or could it have been excessive force? We still don’t know. However, what the murder did was make me more curious about the justice and political system. I never wanted anyone to feel the kind of hurt I felt when I found out Joel died.

So, when I asked the question, “What did you do on the OPD Citizens Review Board,” I wanted an answer as a citizen, a supporter of her opponent and as a journalist, so that I could come back and tell you in this piece. I didn’t ask her for the latest rendition of some tribal song and dance that tops the Billboard charts. I didn’t ask for the attitude she delivered. I wanted an answer and I didn’t want that answer just for Joel. I wanted it for every single person that really believes they are a victim of police brutality and for those of us who are curious as to what happened to those that passed away in police custody or with police nearby.

Now, I’ll backtrack and tell you what State Attorney Jeff Ashton did. After a thorough investigation, Ashton, made sure those OPD officers were indicted and prosecuted just about all of them. He didn’t go on a witch hunt for officers just because they wore blue he put it before a Grand Jury and sided with the truth. He didn’t back down. He didn’t put all officers in one category and hold them all responsible for another officer’s actions. He did what a good State Attorney should do. And Aston didn’t sit on the board.

The OPD Citizens Review Board is made up of community activists, citizens and appointed professionals in the community. This board is to review cases of police brutality or excessive force and make a recommendation about whether or not the cases should move forward or be thrown out.

We have the OPD Citizens Review Board because without a true, properly functioning board, the voice of those who very well could be beaten or unjustly attacked or stopped by police goes unheard. According to my research, Ashton’s opponent MAY have served two months on the board as chair.

Without the board, it’s the officer’s word versus the citizen’s word and quite frankly that’s not fair to either the officer or the alleged victim. If the chair of the board is silent, you’d better believe you’ll see more and more cases of police brutality hit the press and then go absolutely no where. Who was that chair? Ashton’s opponent was not only on the board but was the chair of the board.

Some attorney’s are voices for that opponent. But read on…the attorneys that hit the streets with bullhorns claiming to fight for justice are fighting for paychecks. They are fighting to get you hyped-up so you can turn their case into a media monster, while they garner national exposure, rake in additional clients and settle those cases so close to your heart for dollars rather than time behind bars for those offenders. That’s their goal. To get you to do their job. Hey, maybe that’s ok for some, but it’s not good enough for me around election time.  Look at their win/loss records. Furthermore, look at the law and if our legislators are not doing their jobs, vote them out.

As for Ashton’s opponent, she’s not ready, yet. Her time may come, but this is not it. We need someone level-headed enough to be able to fight for what’s right without being offended by questions that matter most to the community and he’s sitting in the seat already.

I was then asked thereafter whether or not I would support a black woman over a white man. I immediately said, I’d listen to the black woman, of course. She’s black and she’s a woman. I’m black and I’m a woman, so yes, I sat and I listened. I didn’t like what I heard but some of that I’ll save for another day. I refuse to rally behind anyone I have not seen fighting in the black and brown communities for the betterment of our community. I’d much rather fight for the candidate who listens and is unafraid and unapologetic about getting justice for those of us who so desperately need it. As a community, we must move forward in our thinking.

Being black doesn’t make us experienced in the law. Experience makes us experienced. We need to be careful of who and what’s behind any candidate that runs for office. Transparency is what’s needed and with Ashton we have that. When you don’t have that, you’re not confident enough to push through the elements of justice that will truly help the community combat the issues that plague, change and even all too often take the lives of our brothers and sisters.

How Open Carry laws are ending Black lives

Be grateful we don’t have open carry laws here in Florida…yet.

The open carry bill that was presented before the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate failed to pass last legislative session. The bill would have allowed more than 1.5 million people with concealed weapons licenses in Florida to carry those weapons openly in public areas or private businesses that would allow it.
To take it one step farther, Republicans presented a bill that would allow people with concealed weapons licenses to carry those weapons on state and college university campuses. How would you like to send your kid to a college that allows that type of foolishness?

Last week, we lost two black men to police shootings. Alton Sterling was one. Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on the street by an officer. The video of his murder was posted on social media by an eyewitness named Chris LeDay, who is an Atlanta native. Later, the man who posted the video was arrested. First, LeDay told The Source magazine, police arrested him because of battery, something he claims he knew nothing about. Yet, the final charge was for outstanding tickets. Another black man was killed in Minnesota.

The Minnesota man murdered was Philandro Castile, an elementary school lunchroom worker, who was shot and killed as he reached for his wallet to show the officer his identification. Diamond Reynolds, the eyewitness, said Castile, who was also her boyfriend, told the officer that he was licensed to carry and he had a gun on him. As he reached for his wallet, the officer saw the gun and fired off shots that killed Castile almost instantly.

As Castile lay slumped in the driver’s seat of his car, gasping for air, his white shirt soaked in blood which was running down the right side of his body and his arm torn nearly off, Reynolds recorded the tail end of the incident and live streamed it via Facebook’s live feature. We all watched Philandro Castile die with a 4-year old baby girl in the backseat of his car. The world is still shaken by how he died but why he died is debatable. Rallies and marches were held across the nation. During one of those rallies in Dallas, Texas, 11 officers were ambushed by a sniper and 5 were killed. The other six, wounded. The sniper sat tucked away in a building and shot the officers from afar while some protestors walked down the street with their guns slung across their bodies, showing the world they also had the right to openly carry weapons. But, when the shots were fired, those with guns instantly became suspects and if you put yourself in the shoes of the officers, they rightfully so became suspects. But, they weren’t guilty.

The sniper, who was not marching, was the lone gunman who took the lives of these officers and wounded several others. That gunman made every single man and woman carrying a gun a suspect. The same thing happens to many black people on a daily basis. We are suspicious because of a bias or prejudice that remains in the hearts and minds of some. There is no need for an open carry law to exist in any part of this country. But, let’s pretend there is, since evidently a majority of people seem to think so in parts of America.

If a black man legally is equipped with a gun and an officer sees that weapon, by law, he can feel threatened and shoot to kill. This is why, I am predicting, the officer who shot Castile will walk. He can say he feared for his life and maybe he really did. If so, who’s fault is that? I’ll tell you exactly whose fault it is. That blood lies on the hands of those who passed that bill into law without first considering or acknowledging we have a serious problem on our hands already. That problem is believed to be, the theory that some officers are afraid of black men and some black men are afraid of police officers. There is little to no trust between the two. We don’t have to overthink this as because it’s as simple as pie. Admitting it, is what seems to be the hardest part. Fear is what is killing black people at traffic stops and other places by SOME officers.

Simply, because of that terrible reality, black men who are licensed to carry weapons, can and will be, shot dead by someone feeling threatened. Until officers are not afraid of protecting and serving minority communities, they shouldn’t be patrolling those communities. At the moment which an officer is feeling threatened, he or she can take your life if you are carrying a weapon. There’s no way to differentiate whether or not that officer really felt threatened or whether or not the person with the gun was reaching for it.

For black people, open carry laws exacerbate the gun laws we currently are under. Black men and loud black women, we are already feared. If we carry a gun, we are instantly a triple threat. This is not to discourage you from being armed. It’s to let you know the real, raw, unadulterated truth. That truth is what took the life of Philandro Castile, a man good and patient enough to work around children. The laws are made to protect and should be interpreted by attorneys who can present it accurately to a jury.

I focused on black men mostly in this piece although I am well aware that black women also are victims from excessive force. I haven’t forgotten the Sandra Bland’s of the world and never will. The take away should be, our men are so very feared because they have so much to offer. They are the ones that are being forced by some, and please note some, people of all races, to be subject to oppression because they are talented, bright, smart, handsome and forceful. They are the backbone of our churches and the band that holds our families together.

Maybe we can’t understand each other in this country and maybe racism is too far gone to fix. But, I hope we can learn to at the very least, value the lives of one another so that we can live another day.