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.