On January 11, 2019, just three days after he was sworn in as governor, Ron DeSantis suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and replaced him with former Coral Springs Police Sergeant Gregory Tony stating “…suffice it to say the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department”.
While the school shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas on February 14, 2018, was an unspeakable, heinous act committed by a deeply disturbed young man, I would like to express my deep concern with the suspension of Sheriff Israel.
The Florida Constitution states, “There shall be elect-ed by the electors of each county, for terms of four years, a sheriff”. This is exactly what was done when Broward County residents overwhelmingly voted for Sheriff Israel in November 2016. In fact, he topped his opponent by almost 50 percent!
To Sheriff Israel’s credit, there has been a drop in the crime rate and the reduction of criminal charges for young offenders. He also worked to diversify the agency to be more representative of the communities it serves. From advocating for stricter gun control laws to equipping deputies with body cameras, he has had a solid reputation as sheriff.
“Malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony” are the only circumstances under which the Florida constitution finds that the governor may suspend officials. I do not believe Sheriff Israel’s handling of the Parkland shooting meets any of the aforementioned reasons.
In addition to Sheriff Israel’s suspension, Gov. DeSantis has publicly stated that he is looking at “options” related to Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. On January 30, 2019, he stated, “[The suspension of Robert Runcie] came up during the campaign. I went back and actually looked at the statute and it seems pretty clear to me that the statute applied to county-wide elected officials and that it didn’t apply, on its face, to appointed officials”.
He also indicated he planned to make a decision in the upcoming weeks regarding holding members of the Broward School Board accountable for the school shooting.
The writing is on the wall. It’s clearly a plan to remove current Board members and replace them with the people willing to do his bidding: remove Robert Runcie from office.
Under the Superintendent’s leadership, 96 percent of innovative District schools have earned an “A”, “B”, or “C”. Our community has approved two much-needed referendums within the past four years, which secured funding to provide high-quality education and safe learning environments for our youth. Broward also boasts the 4th lowest administrative costs in the State of Florida, out of 67 districts, meaning more money going back into classrooms. Additionally, tens of millions of dollars have been allocated to improving school safety.
The parents and Parkland community are certainly entitled to answers and steps should be taken to ensure there is never another school shooting; however, the MSD Commission stated that “the PROMISE program is irrelevant, it’s immaterial to what happened on February 14…”. A final report was also consistent with this finding.
The suspension of Sheriff Israel and the threat to suspend School Board members who support Superintendent Runcie would be tantamount to disenfranchisement. This is a democracy and Broward County residents selected those we wish to represent us in public office.
Amos 5:24 says, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”.
Gov. DeSantis has a moral obligation to be fair and act righteously to all people, not just those who voted for him. He has a moral obligation to allow Broward County residents’ civil rights to be honored. He has a moral obligation to not seek vengeance or oppress innocent people.
There are disparities in the criminal justice system in Broward and throughout the state that Gov. DeSantis should make among his top priorities instead of pandering to the small segment of Parkland parents and students continuing to push for additional suspensions and terminations.
Minorities in our county are not being treated fairly. How is it that African Americans make up 12.2 percent of the population yet are 4-5 times more likely to be arrested and convicted? There is documented evidence highlighting the lopsided prosecutions of crime under Broward State Attorney Michael Satz. Report after report has chronicled how he has allowed racial profiling and predatory policing to go unchecked.
There is something out of whack with our justice system when Blacks and Browns are being prosecuted at disparaging numbers. It is morally wrong! All leaders – from President Donald Trump to Gov. DeSantis – must execute their jobs in a way that is fair to their base as well as those who oppose their political views.
The arc of the moral university is long but it bends towards justice. The arc doesn’t bend until we stand up and push it towards justice. It will not happen on its own will.
We must step up and speak up and demand that our leaders behave morally and carry out the will of the people.
As Christians, we also have a moral obligation to speak out against injustices. Proverbs 31: 8-9 reminds us, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy”.
As citizens of Broward County, we cannot allow politics as usual. We must not allow politics over morals. We must demand morals over politics. Please stand with me to help hold our leaders accountable.