“We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth. We’re sorry that our coverage of the event and its aftermath lent credibility to the cover-up and the official, racist narrative.”
The pardon came after a dramatic, hour-long meeting during which the families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and his three-member Cabinet – meeting as the clemency board – that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape, reported USA Today.
The woman, who was 17 when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape did indeed happen, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out.”
At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.
“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson said.
“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.
“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson replied.
Five years ago, TCR’s David J. Krajicek looked into journalism’s role in the case—both the rabid local coverage and the crucial attention from northern newspapers that shed light on the scandal.
His report, part of a series of case studies commissioned by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice, examining “how ‘mob journalism’ and media ‘tunnel vision’ turn journalists into tools of the prosecution,” was published in February 2014.
The normally humdrum bureaucracy of registering to vote brought tears to the eyes of some Floridians on Tuesday when most felons regained their right to vote under a state constitutional amendment.
“I’ll be a human being again. I’ll be an American citizen again,” Robert Eckford said, choking up and weeping after filling out an application at the elections supervisor’s office in Orlando.
The ballot measure went into effect Tuesday, overturning a ban that netted Florida the highest number of disenfranchised felons in the nation. It potentially increases the pool of eligible voters by as many as 1.4 million people in a battleground state infamous for its narrow margins in key elections.
“I’m an ex-Marine,” said Eckford, who served seven years for a drug conviction. “I served this country. I’ve done my time. I’ve made some mistakes. But thank God the system works.”
Nearly 65 percent of Florida voters last November approved Amendment 4, which was crafted so that it would take effect on Tuesday. It applies to all felons who have done their time and completed the terms of their probation and parole, with the exception of people convicted of murder or sex offenses.
It is still not clear how those registrations will be treated in the state capitol. Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Monday that he believes the Legislature still needs to pass an implementing bill spelling out the restoration process.
“There’s going to need to be guidance for that. It’s not delaying it. The people spoke on it. It’s going to be implemented, but I think it needs to be implemented the way people intended, and I don’t think that they wanted to see any sex offenders fall through the cracks,” he told reporters.
Civil rights groups have maintained the measure is self-executing, but just to be sure, they warned that they are ready to go to court if there are any delays. Elections supervisors across the state posted notices at their offices and websites saying they would accept the registration forms starting Tuesday. They noted the new voters don’t need to present proof that they completed their sentence; they can simply fill out the existing application, signing under oath that their voting rights have been restored.
Members of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition said they expected the registration to go smoothly. Despite any confusion, the organization’s president, Desmond Meade, encouraged members to celebrate.
Meade has been fighting to regain his right to vote since 2006 when he had served his sentence for a drug offense. Meade readied his family to head out south of downtown Orlando before the sun rose Tuesday. Wearing shirts with the slogan “Let my people vote,” Meade likened his journey to the 1960s movement to end widespread practices that kept black voters away from the polls.
“Moms and dads took their kids to vote with them during the civil rights era,” he said. “I can vote for the first time with my family and that means a lot to me. That means not only do I get to vote, but this is an opportunity now to stimulate a conversation about how important voting is.”
Until the amendment passed, Florida’s constitution automatically barred felons from being able to vote after leaving prison. The state’s clemency process allowed the governor and three elected Cabinet members to restore voting rights, but it was for many an arduous process and the governor could unilaterally veto any request.
Dan Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who studies elections, says it may take time for the effects of the change to become evident.
“There is very little evidence that individuals who have the opportunity to have their rights restored are going to immediately take advantage of that opportunity,” Smith said.
Although black people were disproportionately affected by felony disenfranchisement, they are not a majority of the population with felony convictions, Smith said. He says it is unclear whether the newly franchised voters will sway Florida red or blue. There is no public record of how people who were removed from the rolls have historically voted.
“These are questions that political scientists like myself are going to be looking at in great detail.”
Democratic Party leaders in the state and nation emailed statements welcoming the new voters and accusing Republican politicians of attempting to silence them in the past.
“Democrats will never stop fighting to expand access to the ballot and ensure that no one is silenced or sidelined on Election Day,” said Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Miami. AP writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.
Most Florida felons who have finished their sentences will be able to vote again in future elections. Voters on Tuesday approved Amendment 4, which says that most felons will automatically have their voting rights restored when they complete their sentences or go on probation. The amendment exempts… Read more…
Seven years after Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet voted to end the state policy that automatically restored the civil rights of nonviolent offenders after they complete their sentences, a price tag has emerged, the Miami Herald reports. Florida lost an estimated $385 million a year in economic impact, spent millions on court and prison costs, had 3,500 more offenders return to prison, and lost the opportunity to create about 3,800 new jobs. So concludes a report from the Republican-leaning Washington Economics Group of Coral Gables for proponents of Amendment 4 on the November ballot that asks voters to allow the automatic restoration of civil rights for eligible felons who have served their sentences.
The report was commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a national criminal justice reform organization that works with crime survivors, to show the economic impact of approving the amendment. The findings estimate the cost of the policy that was fast-tracked into law by the governor a month after taking office in 2011, its impact on crime and its cost to taxpayers. Scott and the cabinet repealed the automatic restoration of rights that had been in place for four years and replaced it with a plan requiring a minimum five-year waiting period before offenders could start the application process to have their voting and civil rights restored. The proposed amendment would restore rights automatically, except for those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. To come up with a price tag for the policy, economists looked at the data from 2007 to 2011 and compared it with current data. They focused on the recidivism rate, the number of released felons who returned to prison after being released and projected the costs and the impact those felons would have on the economy if they went to work instead.
Under a new law that takes effect July 1, Florida will begin consolidating criminal justice data from multiple agencies, including prisons, law enforcemers, and courts, into a single data base that will make the information easier to access and analyze, reports the Capitol News Service. Lawmakers call it the gold standard in crime reporting. The goal is to get a better understanding of criminal justice trends in the state to help inform policy decisions.
The new system will require law enforcement agencies, court clerks, state attorneys, public defenders, jails and the Department of Corrections to submit statistics to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The data will be available to the public on FDLE’s website. Florida has the third-largest prison population in the country, costing taxpayers $2.3 billion a year. Barney Bishop of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance said that a long view of better data will bring into relief certain trends that may not be apparent now–for example, whether the system is discriminatory. Agencies that fail to comply with the new reporting requirements can be declared ineligible for state funding for up to five years.