Every state and its government have issues that need to be addressed, and Florida is no exception. Florida has made a number of mistakes over its entire 173 years of existence as a part of the U.S., many of them concerning racism.
The new year marked the first time that Floridians convicted of felonies will have the ability to vote in an upcoming election. This change in law came after Amendment 4 was passed in the most recent Florida election. Amendment 4 allowed nearly 1.5 million Floridians, about 10 percent of Florida’s adult population, to regain their right to vote.
Many have seen the restrictions against formerly incarcerated Floridians as an attack on minority voting in the state. More than 20 percent of otherwise eligible African Americans 18 and over were previously not allowed to vote, according to NPR. This new bill has the possibility to alter outcomes of entire Florida elections, a swing state that in recent elections has een red.
We see barring formerly incarcerated Floridians from voting as an obstruction of justice, but the new law is a bright spot for the state in 2019. It marks a change in the right direction and begins to make amends for injustice.
This year has also seen the pardoning of the Groveland Four, a group of black men: Charles Greenlee, Ernest Thomas, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd. They all were accused of raping a white girl close to Groveland, Florida, in 1949. The four men did not live to see their pardoning. Thomas was shot and killed when he was tracked down after the alleged rape. Shepherd and Irvin were both shot by Lake County Sheriff Willis V. McCall on the way to a trial appearance, after the Supreme Court had called for a retrial in 1951. McCall said it was out of self-defense. Irvin survived, but Shepherd did not.
After Irvin survived, he and Greenlee were retried by an all-white jury for the second time and found guilty. They both spent more than a decade in prison before being released on parole. Irvin died a year after being released on parole and Greenlee died in 2012. The Pulitzer Prize winning book “Devil in the Grove” popularized and told the story of the Groveland Four and the injustices involved.
In 2017, the state of Florida formally apologized to the families of the Groveland Four. On Friday, state officials voted in favor of pardoning the men, allowing for further justice for the families and men involved. This case is an example of another wrong Florida committed. It was clearly a result of a racist and Jim Crow Law era, which culminated in ruining four men and their families’ lives.
These two changes in Florida’s history, the reinstatement of the rights of formerly incarcerated Floridians and the pardoning of the Groveland Four, are an acknowledgment of mistakes made by Florida’s legislature and judicial systems over the years.
It’s important that these changes are being made early in the year because they set an example for the rest of 2019. We have the responsibility to hold our state and ourselves accountable for unjust actions that have been committed in the past and that will inevitably be committed in the future. Let 2019 be a year of righting wrongs and a year of learning from past mistakes.