State leaders strangely silent on events in Ferguson

08/21/2014 5:15 PM

08/21/2014 5:16 PM

The silence scares me.

The silence I’m referring to is from our so-called state leaders in Tallahassee. It’s not that they’re shy; mention anything or anyone connected to President Obama and the muzzles are torn off, the attacks are unleashed. But force them to look at their own backyards and they fumble, they stutter, they glare, they shrug: “It’s not our problem, it’s not our state, it’s not our town.”

Yet Ferguson is our town. Missouri is our state. So long as there are black men, black boys, black women and black girls, Ferguson, Missouri is every town in every state, including Florida. And its problem is ours.

People of color have, for too long, felt the separate and unequal treatment by police. Being pulled over while black has been a reality I've faced through most of my adolescence and adulthood: as a high school student in Miami, a college student in Tallahassee and as a professional in both cities. And I’m not alone.

Incredibly, during these years, rarely has there been a governor or cabinet member that has spoken up to address — or condemn — the issue of disparate treatment, stubbornly preserving the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude that dominates the Tallahassee ivory tower. But the blinders don’t make the problem go away; they only stoke the fires of resentment until something gives, something explodes and the streets erupt with hands lifted and the defiant cries of “Don’t Shoot!”

Unfortunately, the avoidance coupled with the lack of leadership has only allowed things to get worse. The tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin in Sanford and Jordan Davis in Jacksonville should have sent a clear message that something has to change. Yet the governor and cabinet sat silent and offered no solace to those families and no leadership to the people.

When countless Floridians marched and begged for a change to Stand Your Ground — not for political reasons, but out of fear for their children’s lives — the governor instead endorsed making the law tougher.

So here we are as a country, taken aback by the blood on the streets of Ferguson, the death of a young man who had his hands up, asking the question, “Can I live?” and we hear nothing from the leadership in Florida. Just as we didn’t see an eyebrow raised when the Sanford Police Department was ready to write off Trayvon Martin’s killing as justified without an investigation. Or that this year, the Fruitland Police Department had no fewer than three members of its force moonlighting as members of the Ku Klux Klan. Or that a black woman should be retried as an aggressor for firing a warning shot in self-defense.

My message to leadership is a simple one. Be a leader for all Floridians, not just the ones who write checks to your campaigns. And remember that the lessons from Ferguson have already been written in the history books of Florida. Read them, and the silence will be unbearable.

Sen. Dwight Bullard represents District 39, which consists of Hendry, Monroe and parts of Miami-Dade and Collier counties. He currently serves as chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.

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