It’s been just two weeks since Florida’s primary election and the issue of race has become a focal point in the contest for governor. It came up the day after the primary and it came up again this weekend. And, it will likely be raised again this week when the Florida Clemency Board, which consists of the governor and members of the state Cabinet, meets in Tallahassee.
You can be sure Democrats will bring up race when the board meets Tuesday at the state Capitol and it doesn’t include the case of the Groveland Four on its agenda.
The Groveland Four is the name given to the four young black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Lake County in 1949. While the state of Florida has since apologized, posthumously, the men still have not been given an official pardon.
“Throughout my life and in this campaign, I’ve tried to shed light on the long shadow of institutional racism plaguing this state,” said, Chris King, Andrew Gillum’s running mate during the primary campaign last month. “The mistreatment suffered by these young men should trouble every law-abiding citizen and posthumous pardons from Gov. Scott are long overdue.”
House Speaker Richard Corcoran touched on the case during his opening remarks of the 2018 session, a year following passage of the Groveland Four resolution by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“Principle should always drive policy,” said Corcoran. “Whenever the rule of law is disregarded we have to take a stand. Just as we did last year, when this House, after years and years and years, finally apologized for two horrific tragedies – the inhumane violence and abuse that occurred at the Dozier School for Boys and the criminal disregard for the civil and human rights of the Groveland Four.”
There are two more meetings of the Clemency Board before the end of the year before the current membership changes as the result of term limits — the Groveland Four case has not been scheduled for either meeting. Gillum and the three Democratic Cabinet candidates are vowing to take up the case soon after the first of the year if they are elected.
“The total silence from the Governor and Florida Cabinet on expediting the pardons of the Groveland Four speaks volumes about why we so desperately need new leadership in Tallahassee,” said Nikki Fried, Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner.
The Governor’s Office says it continues to consider its options, but that the clemency process is complicated and takes time.
“Governor Scott is aware of the Groveland Four case and is strongly against any form of racial injustice or discrimination,” said Ashley Cook, the governor’s press secretary. “Currently, the families of Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee have applications pending with the Commission on Offender Review which, on behalf of the state of Florida, conducts clemency investigations per standard procedure and the Florida Constitution. After the Commission concludes clemency investigation, their findings are presented to the four-member Board of Executive Clemency. We continue to review all of our options.”
If the Groveland Four case does not come up during Tuesday’s Clemency Board meeting, it will likely come up in the political contests for U.S. Senate, governor and the three Cabinet posts.
Lara Blosser works with a group of volunteers representing the families of the Groveland Four.
“A pardon for Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas – the four young black men from Groveland, Florida who were falsely accused of raping a teenage girl in 1949 – is an opportunity for the Clemency Board members to right a historical wrong and show their constituents that they will stand up for the right thing,” said Blosser. “It is also a critical first step to help shift Florida’s reputation regarding civil rights, at a time when the fairness of its processes is being called into question.
Race became an issue in the governor’s race a day after the primary when Democrats and the media jumped on remarks made by Republican nominee Ron DeSantis that his critics labeled as racist. DeSantis made his “monkey this up” comment on Fox News referring to what could happen to the achievements made during the administration of Gov. Scott if Gillum were to be elected governor. DeSantis has said the phrase was not racist and said any attempt to portray it as so is “absurd.”
But absurd or not, the issue of race has been instilled into the governor’s race. After Tuesday, depending on what happens or doesn’t happen in the Clemency Board, the Democrats will likely try to make it an issue in the contests for the other four statewide offices.
Oh, and don’t forget Amendment 4, which calls for the automatic restoration of civil rights for ex-felons and is also on the ballot in November. It provides the Democrats with another opportunity to play to the issue of race.