“21st Century Policing” was the timely topic for the League’s Hot Topics event Wednesday, with panelists discussing such issues as excessive force by police and the Black Lives Matter movement, which has spawned both peaceful protests and rioting/looting.
On the subject of Black Lives Matter, “We’ve been shown we don’t matter [through U.S. history],” said Orlando civil rights attorney Jerry Girley, citing the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision as a milestone. The justices justified their decision against Scott, a black man who wanted to be declared free because he had lived in a free state and a free territory, by rationalizing that blacks were beings of an inferior nature who were unfit to associate with whites.
That decision, considered one of the worst Supreme Court rulings ever, set the stage for what was to come during the Jim Crow era and beyond.
Girley and the other panelists – West Palm Beach lawyer Kevin Anderson, Orlando police chief Orlando Rolon and Orange County sheriff John Mina -- all vowed their support of Black Lives Matter.
BLM, Anderson said, is not an indictment of white lives. Girley added, “It’s really Black Lives Matter, Too.” It’s just that “things that happen in black communities” don’t happen in other communities, Anderson said.
“It’s an outcry from blacks,” said Rolon. “Being Hispanic, I know what it’s like to be ‘different.’” The chief moved to the U.S. with his parents from Puerto Rico in 1977.
All the members of the panel, moderated by Dr. Stanley Stone, former head of the Criminal Justice Institute at Valencia College, agreed that “defunding the police” is not an accurate phrase for what people want. “It has been politicized,” Anderson said. It should be about how we fund resources, Girley said.
The subject of “excessive police force” came up next, and Mina said “we are often vilified for the actions of a few.” He said that, with the combination of BLM protests and covid-19, officers were putting their lives on the line. “Law enforcement is complex and difficult and not everyone can do it,” he said. The sheriff believes there is a national consensus on excessive force being used and that deputies should intervene if they see officer excesses.
Mina considers Orlando & Orange County progressive when it comes to law enforcement – with bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants, for instance, and progress on the use of body cams and also with cops being charged in situations involving deaths. And, “we have so many good things we do, too,” Rolon said.
Panelists called for more transparency, accountability, listening, education, training (such as in de-escalation practices), exploring common ground, recognizing mental-health problems and language barriers.
Girley and Anderson, who are both African American, said they would like to meet with the two law-enforcement leaders. “It’s always better to have pro-active conversations on the front end,” Girley said. “You guys are good for [my] business and that’s not good,” Anderson said