By Sen. Perry E. Thurston Jr.
As a member of the Florida Senate, it is my responsibility to represent the wide interests and the diverse communities in my district and the state. In speaking up for them, I have been outspoken toward the disparaging comments from some in the Parkland community.
The latest came in response to my comments during an emotional floor debate during the recent special session of the Florida Senate regarding a vote to either remove or re-instate former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. I had been asked to apologize for some of my statements. As I said in response to a recent Sun Sentinel article, ‘I wouldn’t hold my breath.’
Here’s the real story: Gov. Ron DeSantis disenfranchised Broward County’s 2 million residents when he removed Israel as one of his first acts as governor. In my mind, that’s just wrong.
Now, when Broward County could benefit from a community ‘time-out,’ it seems that a handful of Parkland parents continue to attack anyone who disagrees with their pencil-thin point-of-view.
Former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel drew the initial ire. Parkland residents blamed him for leadership “failures” that contributed to the loss of 17 students and staff. Their criticisms prompted Gov. Ron DeSantis to suspend Israel and appoint a new sheriff to take his place.
Robert Runcie, the superintendent of Broward Public Schools was next. He became a target because of his support for the Promise Program, a national reform to monitor school discipline and help keep minority students from the ‘school-to-prison’ pipeline. Several Parkland parents tried to get the governor to suspend Runcie. When that didn’t work, they tried to persuade the school board to fire him. In light of over-whelming support, the board voted to keep Runcie.
Then came Keith Koenig, the co-founder of City Furniture and chair of the Broward Workshop who also publicly supported Runcie. Three Parkland parents, along with 50 other protesters, called for a boycott of Koenig’s company. To hear one Parkland parent describe it: “City Furniture does not want the kids to be safe if they support Robert Runcie.”
Broward School Board Member Roslyn Osgood who re-presents a predominantly Black district, has also been the recipient of harsh criticism for her support for the super-intendent. As have several prominent Black clergy who encouraged their congregations to attend a school board meeting last March in support of Runcie.
I defended Israel, because I believe a Republican governor played politics in reaching a decision that lacked the legal standard of removing the sheriff for incompetence, malfeasance or neglect of duty, something the Florida Senate’s special master found after an exhaustive investigation. The four other senators representing Broward County joined me in voting against the removal.
The decision also set a bad precedent to allow any governor to ignore the will of the voters and remove sheriffs on a whim, a position shared by Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff and chair of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. “There are some things that everyone can learn from, but I don’t see anything that rises to that level or even close to that level,” he said last year during an interview with WTVJ-TV.
No one in the Broward County community, including me, is unmindful of the tragedy that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. However, the horrific loss of loved ones shouldn’t be used to attack anyone who holds a different point of view in addressing issues that affect us all. We should be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
Perry E. Thurston Jr. is a member of the Florida Senate.