Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Appeals Hearing for Beckmann Demotion Set

Appeals Hearing for Beckmann Demotion Set
by José Pérez

The hearing to review the demotion earlier this year of Miami-Dade County fire fighter Brian Beckmann for derisive comments he posted online earlier this year has been set for January, an official with the County Attorney’s Office informed the Miami Times.    

William Candela said that Beckmann’s appeals hearing to reverse his May 14, 2012 demotion from Captain to fire fighter as a result of a rant he posted on his personal Facebook page in which he disparaged the judge in the Trayvon Martin murder case as well as African-Americans in general  will be on January 14, 2013.    “That date has been set in stone,” said Candela who will argue on behalf of Miami-Dade County to uphold that disciplinary action.

The January hearing, which will be open to the public, is the latest episode in a continuing story that started last spring when Beckmann’s comments were originally posted online.  Although the comments were removed and the facebook account was soon removed altogether shortly thereafter, the image of the page posting was already captured and was published by Joy Reid of The Grio Report igniting a firestorm for the Department and County. 

For retired county employee and local activist William Clark, who along with others pushed for Beckmann’s termination, there is still work to be done specifically to be called as witnesses for the County to testify against Beckmann.   Clark said that he believes that “victims are going to be absent. “  He said that he and others in Dade County’s Black community “are the victims of [Beckmann’s] remarks” because fire fighters are “first responders who go straight to the homes of the people.”  Hence for him and others who question Beckmann’s commitment to protect, safety in the hands of someone like the embattled fire fighter is a concern.   “I don’t want to take a chance with this guy saving me,” said Clark of Beckmann.

Simply put, said Clark, “we want the county attorney to subpoena the victims.”

When asked about who will be called as witness, Candela said, “I am going to make the determination.  I have not made it yet.”  Candela said that such hearings are “really common” in a workforce that has “27,000 county employees.”  These hearings involve a union lawyer, a county attorney to argue opposing sides of the case, an independent arbitrator to hear the case, and witnesses called by each side.

Adding to the intrigue in the case, the Miami Herald published redacted copies of Miami-Dade County documentation relating to the case [please see below].   For example, in a county memorandum titled “Findings of Fact Report” sent by Dave Downey, Assistant Chief of Operations to Chief William Bryson on May 11, 2012, Beckmann denied that he wrote the statements that set off the controversy. 

*To read the print version of this article, please click here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Miami PD Enjoying Success Saving Black Youth via PAL

Miami PD Enjoying Success Saving Black Youth via PAL
by José Pérez

It has been said that the African-American male is the United States’ most endangered species.  With headlines and lunchtime conversations about low graduation rates and high incarceration rates, not enough jobs but too many drugs, it is hard for many not to be discouraged.  Yet in every cloud, there is a ray of sunlight fighting hard to break through and shine. 

The City of Miami Police Department’s Police Athletic League (PAL) has, according to Lieutenant Bernard Johnson, “been around for many years.”  Recently, however, PAL’s activities and importance have grown.  The Miami Police’s PAL just finished its second year of offering Pop Warner football to area youth and the number of children either playing football or cheerleading doubled to about 300 participants. 

All of this comes with news about shootings, gambling, and drug use at youth football games in other parts of South Florida.

Photo courtesy of MPD PAL
What is the difference? Simple, says Johnson, “we have direct police involvement.”  The coaches for the PAL are all police officers with the Miami PD. “That makes our program safer because cops always around.  This built-in “security” is something that Johnson says is important to the parents of the children participating in the football, basketball, cheerleading, karate and other programs offered by PAL.  “Our parents are very happy and very satisfied with the structure,” says Johnson.

GreslynJoseph, mother of PAL participants Trent and TajahJoseph, agrees.  “For me the biggest appeal is the sense of security and trust.”  Joseph says she researched other parks and was initially impressed by the respectful nature of the interactions between the parents and coaches at Curtis Park, where PAL practices and plays its football games.

But more importantly for the coaches and parents like Joseph, says Johnson, “our kids are building a relationship with police officers as role models.”  That relationship transcends the playing fields as the Miami PAL works with students in the classroom, too.   Johnson, along with fellow police officers like Majors Craig McQueen andDelrish Moss andOfficers Kelvin Harris andStanley Jean-Paul  are “setting up a better tracking system keep up with [the student-athletes’] grade point averages,” says Johnson.  For the PAL officers, it is all a big part of keeping Miami’s youth in the park and out of trouble.  In fact, PAL’s motto is “building playgrounds, not prisons.”

“Our goal is to help raise the GPA” of the young athletes that come to the PAL, says Johnson, who proudly talked about PAL’s “tutorial programs, direct counseling, and peer facilitators.”

Photo courtesy of MPD PAL
The fast growth of the program has come mostly from “word of mouth” as more and more families are finding out about the PAL and all that it offers. Joseph says that some parents drive from as far away as Ives Dairy Road to bring their children to Curtis Park.Johnson, however is quick to point out that “there are other great programs out there” and he hopes that, if nothing else, the successes of the PAL can serve a model for other programs that want to help children.

But the biggest indicator of success for any youth-focused program in a major metropolitan area is its impact on the overall lives of its participants once they go home.  In short, does the PAL save more Black lives?  “Yes,” says Johnson. “We’re giving these kids an alternative to criminal activity.”

“Supervised youth are always going to be less likely to get into trouble,” explains Johnson, “and more likely to pursue more positive activities.”

For Joseph, the value of this still-growing program goes deeper than skin color: “the PAL is saving young lives.”

*To read the printed version of this article, please click on this link.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Southridge Students Shine in Criminal Justice Academy

Southridge Students Shine in Criminal Justice Academy
by José Pérez, Miami Times writer/photographer

“Order in the court!”  A tall baby-faced teen in a black polo shirt stands in a unique classroom in South Dade and calls his classmates to order.   Another session in Mr. Micah Israel’s Criminal Justice Academy at Southridge Senior High School is about to begin.

A retired police officer with almost 40 years of experience in law enforcement, Israel has spent the past three years teaching and preparing his students for successful careers in criminal justice and law enforcement.  From learning how to write police reports to the protocols of court proceedings, students in this Career Technical Education (CTE) program have the opportunity to learn marketable skills.  For example, students can take the E-911 Communications course while enrolled at Southridge and, if successful, can be certified to be hired as 911 call takers upon graduation. 

For many of the seniors in Israel’s second period class like Harry Davis, a football player who Israel calls his “top attorney,” law school beckons.  Being involved with mock trials and the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Teen Court program have played important roles for students who plan to enroll in law programs likes those at Florida International University and Florida A&M University to pursue their dreams of becoming lawyers.  The program also offers dual enrollment opportunities so students can earn college credits while they are still at Southridge.

Israel’s classroom looks more like a court room than a class room and that exactly what he wants.  The classes even function like courts, too.  “The Clerk takes attendance – just like in court,” said the smiling former cop.   In his classes, students act as attorneys but the acting goes beyond merely pretending.  “Students have to go through an application process which requires at least two years of criminal justice credits just to apply” to become student lawyers said Israel. These student attorneys can then represent clients in Teen Court, a program for first-time juvenile offenders designed to be an alternative to jail and therefore a stain on one’s record. 

“Good morning your Honor, Counsel and members of the jury.”

The students are also preparing for a statewide mock trial competition in Ocala coming up in February.  For example, after reviewing a recent quiz, students quickly “held” an arraignment in class with the duties of jury, clerk, prosecuting and defense attorneys, court reporter, and bailiff all being handled by students (the Honorable M. Spartan – aka Mr. Israel – presiding).

The Criminal Justice Academy at Southridge is one of only six in the county and the Public Service Academy is the only one in South Dade (Turner Tech has the only PSA in North Dade).

Jackie Gomez, a senior and the Clerk of Courts in Israel’s second period class, says her teacher’s success with students starts early.   “Mr. Israel teaches freshman and other new students to observe every little detail,” said Gomez.  “He shows films and asks students to find all of the mistakes to teach them to look for the obvious.”  Whether his students are freshmen or seniors, Israel is always teaching them to be “WIVES” (“wise, intelligent, very educated, and sharp”).

All of these successes are all the more impressive when one takes into consideration that Israel essentially built the program from scratch.  Using donated law books, coming out of his own pocket to buy a second hand karaoke machine to serve as his court’s “audio system,” or building the judge’s bench, jury box, and witness stand himself, Israel believes his example is an important one for his students.  “You can do it,” says the charismatic public school teacher who is proud of the fact that Southridge has gone from an “F” school three years ago to an “A” school today.

Still, Israel is always looking for additional resources to support the work he is doing for his students.  Israel has been happy to have some volunteers from the State Attorney’s Office come on their own to help and he said he is still waiting for the pledge to have an Assistant State Attorney come to help his students with Teen Court.

How serious is Israel about teaching his students all of the in’s and out’s of law enforcement?  “I hope to have a police car donated so I can train [the students] how to make traffic stops,” said Israel with all of the seriousness of King Solomon.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Huracán Sandy destruye gran parte del este de Cuba

Huracán Sandy destruye gran parte del este de Cuba
por José Pérez Carrillo

Santiago de Cuba ha sido durante los siglos una ciudad ruidosa y animada ubicada a los pies de las montañas que cumplan con el Mar Caribe. Lugar de nacimiento de las personas como Desi Arnaz, Rita Marley, y genio militar Antonio Maceo, Santiago y sus residentes siempre son vibrante. Es por esto que un paseo por la ciudad densamente poblada inmediatamente después del huracán Sandy indica que algo andaba muy mal. "Santiago está envuelto en un silencio ensordecedor de la desesperación", dijo el Dr. Alberto Jones de la Caribbean American Children Foundation, quien se crió en Guantánamo cercano y había estado en Cuba visitando a familia y amigos cuando llegó la tormenta asesina.

foto por Guardian, Inglaterra

Lo que el Dr. Jones fue testigo en Santiago no se limitó a la segunda ciudad de Cuba. Él describió lo que vio en lugares como Songo, La Maya, y Guantánamo como "horrible, devastador, e increíble." Gran parte del choque de Jones viene, su esposa Sylvia dijo, de un refuerzo inesperado repentino del huracán antes de tocar tierra en Cuba a partir de una Categoría 1 a 3. "Fue una sorpresa para todos nosotros", dijo Sra. Jones.

foto por Franklin Reyes, AP

Al describir el daño infligido a Oriente de Cuba como "masivo", dijo el Dr. Jones que "cientos de caminos están bloqueados y los ríos desbordados han arrasado las vías del ferrocarril y puentes" en la zona. "La falta de electricidad y servicios telefónicos y suficiente agua purificada para beber," dijo el Dr. Jones ", son algunas de las cuestiones más acuciantes en estos momentos."

foto por Dr. A. Jones

Ventura Figueras Lores, un reportero de Guantánamo, dijo que, a pesar de los obstáculos "cloro y otros productos desinfectantes para purificar el agua para el consumo humano" se están distribuyendo de forma gratuita a través de la red de farmacias del gobierno cubano. De hecho, el Dr. Jones y Figueras señaló que los esfuerzos de reconstrucción ya están en marcha. "Miles de hombres de las organizaciones locales y de la defensa civil las fuerzas febrilmente eliminado los árboles caídos, postes eléctricos y escombros obstruyendo las carreteras y autopistas", dijo el doctor Jones, "como otros construyeron rutas alternativas o reforzar las estructuras debilitadas." Incluso los ciudadanos de a pie, como los adultos mayores y los niños están involucrados en el proceso, dijo el Dr. Jones.

foto por Periodico Venceremos

La Sra. Jones dijo que este enfoque proactivo a los huracanes no es nada nuevo para los cubanos. "Cuba tiene el mejor récord en el Caribe en cuanto a muertes después de las tormentas se refiere," dijo ella señalando que seminarios como una serie patrocinada por el Centro de Cuba ProyectoInternational Policy por funcionarios estadounidenses de manejo de emergencias que estudian el modelo de defensa civil de Cuba y la preparación para casos de desastre son la prueba de los éxitos de Cuba en esta área. "Todo el mundo sabe a dónde ir, qué hacer," dijo la Sra. Jones, de la profundidad íntima de la preparación de huracanes basada en la comunidad. "Ellos no esperan a evacuar - vienen a recogerlo".

foto por Franklin Reyes, AP

En vista de ello, los Jones y muchos otros fueron devastados por la noticia de que 11 personas en Cuba solo murieron a causa de la tormenta y "las decenas de miles de casas sin techo o sin ventanas, escuelas, centros de salud, hogares de ancianos, guarderías, culturales centros que fueron parcial o totalmente destruidas," dijo el Dr. Jones son "simplemente desgarrador.”

foto por Periodico Venceremos

"Aquí, a pesar de todas las adversidades", dijo Figueras, "es un huracán humano real." Explicó que este "huracán humano" es evidente "el pueblo junto con las autoridades en las zonas afectadas por tierra con la ayuda a pesar de la escasez de recursos."  De hecho, los voluntarios han estado viniendo a Oriente de todas partes de Cuba para ayudar con la recuperación desde entonces la señal de todo despejado publicación. Pero, aún así, se necesita más ayuda.

foto por Dr. A. Jones

"Estamos pidiendo a cada interesado y atento a que abran sus corazones", dijo el Dr. Jones que ha pasado más de 20 años dirigiendo los esfuerzos humanitarios en el este de Cuba desde su casa en el noreste de Florida. "Queremos correr la voz," dijo Sra. Jones sobre la necesidad de ayuda.

foto por AIN, Cuban News Agency

Hurricane Sandy Slams Eastern Cuba

Hurricane Sandy Slams Eastern Cuba
by José Pérez

Santiago de Cuba has – for centuries – been a loud and lively city nestled at the foot of mountains that meet the Caribbean Sea.  Birthplace of people like Desi Arnaz, Rita Marley, and Afro-Cuban military genius Antonio Maceo, Santiago and its residents are always vibrant.    It is because of this that a walk around the densely-populated city in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy indicated that something was very wrong.  “Santiago is wrapped in a deafening silence of despair,” said Dr. Alberto Jones of the Caribbean American Children’s Foundation, who grew up in nearby Guantanamo and had been in Cuba visiting family and friends when the killer storm hit.

What Dr. Jones witnessed in Santiago was not limited to Cuba’s second city.  He described what he saw in places like Songo, La Maya, and Guantanamo as “horrifying, devasting, and unbelievable.”  Much of Jones’ shock comes, his wife Sylvia said, from an unexpected sudden strengthening of the hurricane just before it made landfall in Cuba from a Catagory 1 to a 3. “It was a surprise to all of us,” said Ms. Jones.

Describing the damage inflicted on Eastern Cuba as “massive,” Dr. Jones said that “hundreds of roads are blocked and overflowing rivers have washed away railroad tracks and bridges” in the area.  “A lack of electricity & telephone services and insufficient purified drinking wáter,” said Dr. Jones, “are some of the most pressing issues right now.”

Ventura Figueras Lores, a reporter in Guantanamo, said that, despite obstacles, “chlorine and other disinfecting products to purify water for human consumption” are being distributed for free through the Cuban government’s pharmacy network.    In fact, Dr. Jones and Figueras pointed out that rebuilding efforts are already underway.  “Thousands of men from local organizations and  civil defense forces feverishly removed fallen trees, electric poles and rubble obstructing roads and highways,” said Dr. Jones, “as others built alternative routes or strengthened weakened structures.”  Even ordinary citizens like older adults and children are involved with the process said Dr. Jones.

Ms. Jones said that this proactive approach to hurricanes is nothing new for Cubans.  “Cuba has the best record in the Caribbean as far as casualties after storms are concerned,” she said pointing out that seminars such as a series sponsored by the Center for InternationalPolicy’s Cuba Project for U.S. emergency management officials that study the model of Cuba’s civil defense and disaster preparedness are proof of Cuba’s successes in this area.  “Everyone knows where to go, what to do,” said Ms. Jones of the intimate depth of community-based hurricane readiness.  “They don’t wait for you to evacuate – they come and pick you up.”

In light of that, the Jones and many others were devastated by the news that 11 people in Cuba alone were killed because of the storm and “the tens of thousands of roofless or windowless homes, schools, healthcare facilities, nursing homes, daycares, cultural centers that were partially or totally destroyed,” said Dr. Jones are “simply heartbreaking.”

“Here, despite all of the adversity,” said Figueras, “is a real human hurricane.”  He explained that this “human hurricane” is evident by “the people along with the authorities rushing into affected áreas with help despite the scarcity of resources.”  Indeed, volunteers have been coming into Eastern Cuba from every part of Cuba to aid with the recovery ever since the all-clear signal was posted.  But, still, more help is needed.

“We are asking every concerned and caring individual to open their hearts,” said Dr. Jones who has spent more than 20 years directing humanitarian efforts in Eastern Cuba from his home in Northeast Florida.  “We want to get the word out,” said Ms. Jones about the need for help.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Third Party Candidates Seek to Expand National Debate

Third Party Candidates Seek to Expand National Debate
by José Pérez

Four years ago, the election of Barack Obama as the first Black president of the United States was hailed a groundbreaking moment in history.  What many people were not aware of, however, was that he was not the only African-American running for the highest office in the land in 2008.  Former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney ran against Obama and the Republican nominee John McCain as the Green Party candidate that year.

This year, there are three Black candidates for President of the United States that voters in Miami-Dade County will see on their ballots in a few weeks.  President Obama, of course, is one but who are the others and what are their campaigns all about?
Peta Lindsay is the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s nominee and Stewart Alexander is the Socialist Party USA’s candidate.   There are similarities and there are differences between the two candidates.

Lindsay                                         Alexander

Both were born back east but eventually settled in California.   One is in his early 60’s and the other is in her late 20’s. And both are socialists who see little difference between the choices offered by the Democrats and Republicans.  “I don’t see any fundamental difference between the two parties,” said Alexander.  “We stand very left of the democratic party…they don’t truly represent the working class people.”

“We live in a democracy for the rich,” said Lindsay whose platform has a different take on the oft-repeated issue of job creation. “Our campaign’s number one point is to make having a job a constitutional right.”  Her campaign also calls from immediate cancellation of student debts.

For both candidates, race is an issue that cannot be ignored.  “You are living in a fantasyland if you don’t think that racism exists,” said Lindsay.  The impact of racism, said, Stewart must be taken into account. “You need to have people that understand this.”

An understanding of this deeply-entrenched institutionalized racism affects what Stewart calls “proportional representation,” who wants to, if elected, “make certain that economically depressed communities will be represented fairly.”

This speaks to an important plank in Lindsay’s campaign.  “Change comes from the people,” said Lindsay. This people power is important for both Stewart and Lindsay.   “There still has not been a bailout for the people,” said Lindsay and Stewart agreed when he said that “the poor are being left behind.”

With billions of dollars being spent by both the Republican and Democratic parties for just the presidential campaigns, and both Lindsay and Stewart having very limited financial support (Stewart said that his campaign has raised a total of approximately $10,000), does either nominee see themselves as a serious candidate?    Both earnestly regard their respective candidacies as serious ones.   “I am serious in the respect that if I were in the Oval Office I could do the job,” said Stewart.  “I am seriously addressing the issues.” 

For Lindsay, who draws motivation from the fact that “African-Americans have historically been at the forefront of the struggle” for democracy in this country, the question takes on an added dimension.  The U.S. Constitution currently requires that a person must be at least 35 years old to be president but she has not yet reached 30.  “Less than one hundred years ago, it was illegal for women to even vote and before that no Black person could vote,” said Lindsay who, like Stewart, is committed to focusing more on the issues than the odds against them winning in November.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mayor Meets with Edison Towers Residents to Discuss Crime

Mayor Meets with Edison Towers Residents to Discuss Crime
Story & photographs by José Pérez

In a political landscape where well-heeled super-interests seem to have all of our elected officials’ attention, the thought of a regular citizen, an average Joe having the mayor of a major city come to speak to a group of senior citizens seems to be merely the stuff of which Frank Capra movies are made.    But things are not always as they seem and, yes, an average Joe can make things happen –even when his name is not really Joe.

James Stubbs, of the Edison Towers Tenant Association in Liberty City, spent most of the past summer – about three to four months – lobbying to get the mayor and the police chief to come speak at one of that group’s monthly meetings about concerns over crime in the area.  Specifically, the residents wanted to press directly for the assignment of a permanent, full-time beat cop to patrol the stretch of NW 7th Avenue that runs between 54th and 62nd Streets.

“We’ve had quite a few robberies,” said Stubbs.   A retired Miami police officer, Stubbs ran through a list of recent crimes that have affected the area:  a bank heist, a stabbing at a bus stop, a smash & grab theft at a gas station, and even the shooting of an off duty police officer during a robbery – outside of his church.

Stubbs’ efforts were partially successful as Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado came to last week’s resident meeting at Edison Towers but not Police Manuel Orosa (who had to cancel shortly before) to address those concerns.  Regalado brought with him a few members of his staff and two police commanders in lieu of the chief (Commander Dana Carr from the Model City NET Office spoke with residents, too).  The importance of the chief’s participation was simple:  “Only the chief of police can authorize a beat cop assignment,” said Stubbs.

Mayor: ‘I will talk to the chief about the beat cop’

Regalado wasted little time in answering the biggest question of the evening.  “Yes! I will talk to the chief about the beat cop,” declared Regalado.  “People are complaining about it and the police department is doing something about it.”

“I guarantee to have more officers reassigned from desk jobs and more new hires will be deployed,” promised Regalado to the Tenants’ Association.  “In the next weeks, there will be more police visibility here.”

For people in attendance like Angela Kelly, Vice President of the Tacolcy Economic Development Corporation, the mayor’s guarantee was good to hear but, as she told Regalado, “it takes commitment.”

Citing both history (“we used to have a beat cop here”) and basic dollars and cents (“we would like to continue to develop the economic base for the 7th Avenue Corridor”), Kelly echoed what Stubbs had alluded to at the beginning of the meeting about allocation of resources.   For example, the area formerly known as Wynwood and now dubbed the Midtown Design District has two beat cops around the clock. “I don’t understand how other communities have beat cops and we don’t,” asked Kelly.

Regalado’s message – and promise – were what residents wanted to hear.   “Let us try because we [Chief Orosa & Regalado] are trying to work with all residents,” said the mayor.   “We are working for the present and the future.”

And does Regalado have confidence that Orosa will back up his pledge?  “I trust him,” said Regalado.

“So do I,” said Stubbs.

*To read the print version of this article, please click on this urlink.

“We are not politicians” – One on One with State Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince

“We are not politicians” – One on One with State Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince
Exclusive by José Pérez

One of the hallmarks of the American democratic system is the concept of checks and balances evident in the separation of powers.   Every sixth grader in every school in the United States has learned in his or her civics class that there are three branches of government:  the Legislature, which makes laws; the Executive, which executes laws; and the Judicial, which interprets laws.   In principle, no one branch is to have more power than any other.  Of course, if one goes back to first grade, he will remember “rock-paper-scissors.”  That is checks and balances, too.

Well, it appears that there are some people that are not happy with Florida’s current system of checks and balances and their move to alter how powers are separated in this state has made it to next month’s ballot.   Voters will have two choices to make next month that will determine whether or not the judicial branch will be able to maintain its share of state powers.  

In keeping with state law that concern judicial selection and retention by merit, three of the seven justices on Florida’s Supreme Court – R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince – are up for “reelection.”   We’ll talk about that shortly.

The other choice for voters is Amendment 5, a ballot initiative that seeks to change state law by allowing unprecedented legislative access to confidential court records, giving the State Senate the power to approve would-be Supreme Court Justices, and a simple majority to void court rules (instead of the current 2/3’s majority set out by law). 

Both initiatives all point in the direction of people – both inside and outside of Florida – that want to make the most of the long-standing supermajority Republicans enjoy in the State Legislature.    Right-wing groups like Restore Justice 2012 and Americans for Prosperity have been very busy trying to get Amendment 5 passed and Justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince ousted.

And that is not even the hard part.

How does a judge or justice, the very embodiment of the apolitical scales of justice, work against thinly-veiled partisan threats to his or her place on the bench or even the power of the bench itself?  Campaigning under normal circumstances is not easy given the slippery slope towards subjectivity on the campaign trail.

“That is a real challenge,” says Justice Quince, “because, as justices, we are not politicians.”

As the lone Black woman in Florida’s highest court and one of the three justices up for merit retention this year, Quince spoke to the Miami Times about merit retention, Amendment 5, and the unique nature of the courts as impartial arbiters in Florida’ system of democracy.

For about forty years, Florida’s judicial system has been built on a strenuous vetting process known as merit selection and retention.  The merit process requires indepth inquiries and investigations before a nominating commission sends a list of possible candidates to the governor. 

Quince went through this process in the late 1990’s in a very unique fashion.    In December 1998, Governor Elect Jeb Bush and outgoing Governor Lawton Chiles made Quince a Justice via “a joint appointment after being interviewed by both,” she remembered.    The irony of two of Florida’s iconic figures in their respective political parties both agreeing on the appointment of Quince to the state’s highest court, for Quince, “indicates that, to a certain extent, the process works.” 

“They were both looking for the same things: experience, character, and temperament.”

‘Courts cannot be lockstep with other branches’ 

So what does Quince think about Amendment 5 and its inherent threat to the impartial nature of the state judicial system?  She would not offer a personal opinion but did offer a professional observation.

“As I understand Amendment 5,  it is about rule-making, how the Supreme Court makes rules for how the entire court system operates,” said Quince.  “For example, a rule could outline a certain number of days to do something, establish deadlines, how to present a case.”

That “rule-changing” provision of Amendment 5 is curious as it pertains specifically to what Quince calls “a rare occurrence.”   How rare of an occurrence is the Legislature being so averse to a specific rule of court that it found itself as a body compelled to attempt to repeal it?  “I have been a justice since 1998 and I only remember it happening once.”  Thus, the question that remains to be answered is:  why go through so much trouble to change something that is rarely invoked by the Legislature?

Ultimately, the current politicized circumstance is challenging for Quince and her peers.  “Our judicial system and the selection and retention of judges and justices is non-partisan,” said Quince who explained that “the legislature and governor decided [in 1974] that we didn’t want our judges subjected to political whims.”

Why is it that insulation from partisan politics is so important to a judicial system as a pillar of an effective democracy?   Quince offered some insight.  “Judges make hard decisions and they can’t always be based on agreement,” said the sage barrister.   “The courts cannot be lockstep with the other branches – that is the beauty of our system,” said Quince.  In fact, the odd number of Justices on the State Supreme Court indicates that even that august body should not be monolithic as does the importance of dissenting opinions published as vital components of public record.   For Quince, the personal viewpoint of a judge “doesn’t matter:  constitutionally, every judge and justice has the same obligation.” 

*To read the printed version of this article, please click on this urlink.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Broward’s Black Elected Officials are Busy"

We Must Continue’ – Broward’s Black Elected Officials are Working Hard and Growing Fast
by José Pérez

In 1974, history was made when, in winning the race for a seat on the Broward County School Board, Dillard High social studies teacher Dr. Kathleen Cooper Wright became the first Black person to win a countywide election in Broward.   Twelve years later, Sylvia Poitier became the first Black person elected as a Broward County Commissioner a year after being appointed to the commission by then-Governor Bob Graham.

The number of Black elected officials in Broward County has grown significantly since those days with the current number standing at 33 according to Dania Beach Vice Mayor Bobbie H. Grace.   Those ranks include political figures at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels.   Among that active number include people like United States Congressperson Alcee Hastings, County Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda Snipes, State Representative Hazelle Rogers, State Senator Christopher Smith, and Mayor of West Park Eric Jones (who is also  the current chair of Broward Black Elected Officials, Inc.). 

This growing number of Black elected officials in Broward County is busy working hard on projects as diverse as the population of the county itself.

For example, State Representative Perry Thurston, Jr., incoming leader for House democrats, is busy trying to improve his party’s super minority status in Tallahassee.   To that end, he is involved with twelve different campaigns across the state.  In order to achieve that objective, the democrats would need to have at least 42 seats in the upcoming legislative session.  Currently, the democrats have 38 seats so Thurston says that the prospects of shifting the scales of power a little more towards the other side of the aisle are “looking very favorable.”

“We are anticipating significant gains,” said Thurston who ultimately hopes to move the legislature towards greater balance between both parties on the House floor.

County Commissioner Barbara Sharief’s district covers all of the Broward communities that border Miami-Dade County.  Sharief’s primary focus first as a city commissioner in Miramar and now in the County Commission is housing, specifically foreclosures.  “For some time now I’ve wanted to make sure that people who were being foreclosed had a resource,” said Sharief.  Subsequently, she has been working to connect her constituents with different federal programs that could help them, including assistance for unemployed and underemployed home owners. “This is one issue that transcends the three counties’ boundaries and my duty as an elected official is to help the people affected,” said Sharief.

Housing is also important to Grace, was summoned out of retirement in 2010 to come back to the city to help with housing and CRA’s.  “The most astonishing accomplishment for me,” said Grace, “was developing affordable housing in Dania Beach.”    Specifically, 82 single family homes and a pair of buildings for older adults are the products of those efforts which are part of a larger community development initiative Grace talked about with the Miami Times.  

Dale V. C. Holness, who sits on the Broward County Commission with Sharief, focuses on minimizing economic disparity. “My focus has been on economic development and job creation,” says Holness.   For instance, he cites recent efforts to increase diversity within Broward County’s Fire Department as fruits of that focus.   “At the beginning of this year, out of 840 firefighters, only 26 were Black,” said Holness who pointed out that the newest class of recruits has six Blacks out of a total class size of 15. 

Recognizing the potential for international opportunities for growth to address sobering figures like the 30% of people in the 33311 zip code in Broward living below federal poverty levels, Holness is trying to take advantage of location and demographics in his community to improve circumstances.  For instance, both a recent forum that focused on trade with Colombia with mayors of 12 different cities from that South American country and a widely successful international cricket match in Lauderhill that resulted in a $3million injection of funds into the local economy indicate an emerging aggressive approach to combating poverty.

Grace, who is also excited about the creation of community gardens growing organic foods “for the benefit of all residents” in her city, cited people like Robert Ingram, Carrie Meek, as well as Wright and Poitier for guiding her rightly as she embarked on her political career.

Following more directly in the footsteps of Wright is Benjamin Williams, who is finishing up his tenure as a member of the Broward County Public School Board.  Williams’ most important project now is one that reflects upon all of today and tomorrow’s Broward’s elected officials:  a sculpture of Wright to be erected in front of the same school board building named in her honor.   With help from the Links of Fort Lauderdale, the Broward Education Foundation, and the school board, Williams says “we hope to finalize [the funding of the project] by November.”  With the total goal of $75,000 almost within reach, Williams is optimistic – and motivated by Wright’s memory.  

“She was an outstanding leader and educator,” said Williams, “and we must continue her work.”

'Parsley Massacre' Remembered in Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Miami

'Kout Kouto-a': Haitians & Dominicans Come Together to Share a Tale of Genocide
Border of Lights shines attention on forgotten massacre 75 years later

By José Pérez, Miami Times writer/photographer

An old adage says that “history is written by the victors” but what of an unwritten, hidden history?  Who writes that? Many different people, appears to be the answer.  Proof is in the gathering this week of many, different people at a place called the Massacre River, which serves as the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the Caribbean island traditionally known as Quisqueya since before Columbus landed there in the late 15th century.  That piece of history is commonly known to even the youngest of children but that is not what is brought those many different people to the towns of Quanaminthe, Haiti and Dajabon, Dominican Republic last week.  

The group, converged there under the umbrella of “Border of Lights,” making the pilgrimage to the river to mark the 75th anniversary of one of the worst acts of genocide in the history of the Western Hemisphere.   Over the course of a few bloody, harrowing days in early October 1937, tens of thousands of innocent people – men, women, children, elders – were slaughtered under the order of the dictator of the Dominican Republic at that time, Rafael Trujillo.   All of the victims had one thing in common:  they were targeted as part of a systematic campaign to eliminate Haitians from the Dominican Republic, even if that meant butchering Dominicans who were either of Haitian descent or merely “looked” Haitian enough to the bands of murderers rounding up helpless victims.

Jan Mapou, owner of the Mapou Bookstore in Little Haiti and local radio host, says that the massacre is also known as the Parsley Massacre because soldiers would summon would-be victims with a sprig of parsley in one hand and a machete, bayonet, or long knife in the other.  If a person questioned could not properly pronounce the Spanish word for parsley (perejil), his or her “guilt” as a Haitian was therefore immediately proven and the sentence of death was quickly executed, often via beheading.   Known in Kreyol as kout kouto-a, or the cutting, approximately 20,000 people were killed in little more than five days, says Mapou, who dedicated his weekly radio show on RadioMega recently to the discussion of this event with local historian, Dr. Jean-Claude Exulien.

The response to the radio show was overwhelming especially from “younger Haitians who had no clue that this even happened,” says Mapou.   The discussion carried over from the studios over to his shop in Little Haiti.  “One man who was listening,” says Mapou, “told us that he was born on the border because his mother was literally running for her life while she was pregnant with him.”

The Border of Lights movement is built upon a broad base of grassroots activism, says Dr. Ed Paulino, a history professor at the City University of New York.  This is evident by the active planning and participation of Haitians, Dominicans, African-Americans and many others in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the United States and beyond.    One such person is Sady I. Diaz, a public relations specialist for the City of Sunrise and a Dominican-American.   “This is important to me because I am them,” says Diaz who grew up in a home that embraced its diverse heritage of African and European roots.  “Had I been living then, that could have been me, it could’ve been someone in my family.”

(photographs of Diaz, left, and Dotson, center, and Beard, right, courtesy of BOL)

The determination and motivation to bring more attention to this atrocity via what Diaz calls “education, experience, and exposure” is shared by Mapou, Paulino, and a pair of courageous sisters from – of all places – Kokomo, Indiana.   Rana Dotson and DeAndra Beard, co-founders of the non-profit Organization of Dominican Haitian Cooperation (OCDH), see undeniable connections between the Parsley Massacre and the migrant workers they grew up with in the cornfields near their childhood home, and their family members who lived as sharecroppers in Arkansas.    “It is an instant connection for us,” says Dotson, a connection that Beard, an educator, says is a “shared experience.”  For them, the fact that they are African-American heightens their sense of duty to “build awareness about … these people that were forgotten,” says Dotson.  A public policy expert, Dotson says that, as Blacks in the United States, “we have the responsibility as a people to look outside and see our global community connected by history.”

“…and blood,” added Beard. 

(photograph courtesy of BOL)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Miami's Black Republicans Feel Shut Out"

This is a Democracy’ -  Miami’s Black Republicans Feel Shut Out
 (text and photos by J. PÉREZ)
Barbara Howard —Miami Times photo/Jose Perez

What do James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston and current Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll all have in common?   The same thing as 7,746 people in Miami-Dade County:  they are all Black Floridians who also happen to be Republicans.   That begs more questions:  Who are Miami-Dade County’s Black Republicans, why are they Republicans, and are they really “Black”?  After all, with a Black Democrat serving all of the United States as President, does being Republican make one “less” Black?

Ted Lyons, for instance, has been a registered member of the “Grand Ole Party” since 1978.    A proud graduate of Florida’s only public historically Black college, Florida A&M University, Lyons describes himself as “one of the happiest persons in America to have a black family in the White House.”  And he knows a little more about the White House than most:  Lyons served in the federal government for eight years during the Reagan administration as did the late Arthur Teele, who was another prominent Black Republican in Miami after finishing his tenure in Washington, D.C.

For Lyons and others, the decision to be Republican or even just the decision not to be a Democrat should not even be an issue.   “We have to participate in both parties,” says Lyons, who is currently serving as the public relations chair for the Miami-Dade County Republican Party (which currently numbers just over 371,000 members across the county).  T. Willard Fair, longtime chair of Miami’s Urban League says plainly, “I sympathize with what is best for my community.”  

The notion that being a Republican undermines one’s “Blackness” is one that rankles many.  Sitting in her living room, abundantly adorned with artwork from across the vast African continent and a with a biography of Nelson Mandela on her coffee table, Barbara Howard says she has been painted as a “persona non grata…public enemy number one” in the community.   “Why do you call me names?  I thought we were free,” asks Howard, who came of age just outside of Montgomery, Alabama as that city was becoming ground zero for the expanding civil rights movement in this country. 

It was not so long in our country’s history that all of the states south of the Mason-Dixon Line (including Florida) were Southern Democratic strongholds, controlled for generations by the so-called “Dixiecrats.”   Men like Orval Faubus in Arkansas, James Eastland in Mississippi, and George Wallace and Bull Connor in Alabama were proud and prominent members of the Democratic Party.  Conversely, people like Ida B. Wells, James Meredith, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Sr. were just but a few of many Black Republicans across the country. 

Fair, Howard, and Lyons all point to synchronicity of views on families and family values with the Republican Party as big reasons why they each believe that the GOP has the answers to what is ailing Black Miami.   “There is nothing broken in Liberty City that can’t be fixed with whole families,” says Fair - who is long-time registered independent voter.   Ironically, Fair’s statement echoes a very similar sentiment voiced decades ago by T. R. M. Howard who, in spite of being a Black Republican, was credited as being a powerful mentor for both Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer.

Also important to many Black Republicans is need for political plurality as a way to ensure that the needs of the Black community are not subject to whoever is in office.   Likening the long-standing “Blacks are automatically Democrat” paradigm in the American political scene to “a beauty contest,” Lyons argues that “there is no real debate in our community – we’re just supposed to vote democrat.” 

“This is a democracy, a system that allows you to speak your mind,” said Lyons.

In article published a few weeks ago in the Miami Times, H. T. Smith said  that “Blacks’ relationship with the [Democratic] Party is akin to a domestic violence situation — the Democrats continue to abuse us but we insist on staying with them and remaining fully committed.”  Fair believes that this collective relationship with the Democratic Party is rooted in “insecurity.”

“Racism - in practice - dehumanizes, therefore Blacks make decisions based on insecurity which is rooted in a lack of acceptance,” said Fair.  

Additionally, the potential for alienation from friends, relatives, and neighbors adds to this dynamic.  “There are tens of thousands [of Blacks] that subscribe to Republican philosophy but are afraid to say so,” continued Fair.   Lyons and Howard each believe that this ideological prejudice denies Black Republicans equal voice and thus undermines American democracy.  “We need to be able to share our opinion,” said Lyons, including Black-owned newspapers that “don’t allow Black Republicans to have their say on a regular basis.”

For many non-Democratic Black citizens of Miami-Dade County, the real issue centers on common issues for all.  “At the end of the day, what is in the best interest for Black folks?” asked Fair.

By José Pérez
Miami Times writer