The Center for Policing Equity (CPE) is outraged by police body cam footage obtained by the Tampa Bay Times and released last week showing the arrest of mostly Black Floridians for “voter fraud,” despite the fact that those arrested had every reason to believe they were legally entitled to vote. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ blatant assault on Black Floridians’ civil rights is just the latest in this country’s shameful history of anti-Black voter suppression, dating back to even before the 15th Amendment extended voting rights to Black men in 1870.
News first broke of DeSantis’ voter suppression tactics on August 18 when the governor held a press conference touting his efforts; the recently obtained video footage clearly demonstrates the sheer bewilderment not only of those being detained but of the officers executing the warrants against them: “Voter fraud?” 55-year-old Romona Oliver asked in evident confusion as an officer handcuffed her; she’d registered to vote once and then again upon changing residence, with no issues raised either time. “I voted,” she told officers, “but I didn’t commit fraud!” Similar sentiments are heard time and again in the footage; Nathan Hart said he’d been told “if you can vote then they’ll give you a card, and if you can’t vote, [they] won’t,” to which an officer responded, “then there’s your defense, you know what I’m saying?”
In 2018, Floridians voted overwhelmingly to restore voting rights to most convicted felons in the state; in the intervening years, those opposed to the change have done all they can to blunt the legislation’s impact by means of convoluted voter forms and logistical barriers; DeSantis’ recent actions took these efforts to their logical and alarming conclusion.
Sending armed officers to detain formerly incarcerated people who believed their voting rights had been restored–and in many cases, had gone to the trouble to verify–was not only a gross misuse of law enforcement resources. DeSantis’ political stunt mirrors the violent strongarm tactics employed by White supremacists throughout this nation’s history to frighten Black people away from participating in the political process and having a say in their own future. In an era when numerous pro-voter campaigns encourage participation in the election process, DeSantis’ clear intent was to parade these unsuspecting voters before the nation in order to dissuade other Black people from risking police harassment, a felony record, and the associated expense just to cast their ballot.
Ever since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, race-motivated redistricting and dozens of laws have been passed across the country with the clear intent of suppressing the Black vote; DeSantis’ use of armed officers ups the ante and serves to create a culture of fear not unlike that produced by the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan and murderous White mobs in the past. These officers were not engaged in securing public safety–they were weaponized to police Black bodies and instill fear in the hearts of Black voters. Yet such dehumanization is a daily reality for Black and Brown people in the United States; the only difference is that today, the entire country can watch it unfold.
CPE demands, unequivocally, that DeSantis immediately stop using his state’s law enforcement agencies as tools of terror against the Black voters of his state, and calls on the Department of Justice to open an urgent investigation into these egregious efforts to reestablish Jim Crow. We dare not sit idly by and allow such rank dehumanization of Florida’s Black people to continue.