Black Lives Matter: Tampa hosted protest marches in 2020 and 2021. Credit: BLM Tampa Facebook
Black males in Florida and across the nation face extraordinary challenges, from becoming targets of hate crimes to navigating a criminal justice system that can involve unfair policing practices, convictions and even deaths, according to civil rights leaders and members of Congress and federal agencies.
The national Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys last week held a roundtable discussion to tackle the problems in the fight for equal justice for African Americans.
“We began our work in January by deeming the year 2022-23 as the year of Black men and boys,” said Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, chair of the 19-member bipartisan commission that studies a range of issues, from homicide and incarceration rates to poverty, drug abuse, income inequality and school performance. (At the state-level, Florida has a similar commission.)
“This (national) commission isn’t built on politics, it’s built on humanity, empathy, unification, dedication, persistence but most importantly, the desire for change,” Wilson said during the virtual meeting. “We must create stronger communities and an equitable society for everyone.”
Speakers at the meeting pointed to George Floyd and other Black men and women who have died at the hands of police officers, while discussing how Black men with felony convictions struggle with jobs, education, and mental health issues from systemic racism.
Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division for the U.S. Department of Justice, argued that FBI data show that “during the pandemic there was a rise in hate crimes committed against Black Americans.”
“We know that Black people including Black men and boys are subject to hate crimes, including racially motivated threats and racially motivated violence at alarming rates,” she said during the meeting. “We must continue to do all we can to confront this crisis.”
“The world watched in the summer of 2020 as Americans from every corner of the country took to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd and so many others who have lost their lives,” Clarke said. “And these protests were about shining a light on the need for a more fair criminal justice system.”
A 2020 report released in August 2021 by the FBI revealed that Black Americans in the United States were targeted the most by hate crimes compared to other racial groups, with 2,871 reported incidents nationwide. The report shows 869 “anti-white” hate crime incidents; 517 “anti-Hispanic or Latino” incidents; 279 incidents against Asian and 211 against “anti-multiple races.”
In Florida, out of 109 total incidents of hate crimes, 44 occurred against Black Americans — the highest of all racial groups.
“The tragic killing of Ahmaud Arbery is one recent example,” Clarke said, adding that the three men involved in the killing of Arbery in Georgia were convicted on federal hate crime charges. “And these convictions make clear that Mr. Arbery was killed because of his race,” she said.
Meanwhile, many African Americans believe they’ve been unjustly targeted by police officers, according to a 2020 survey from the Pew Research Center.
The survey, which involved 9,654 adults in the United States conducted from June 4-10, 2020, found that 45 percent of Black Americans “say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity.”
But Black men (64 percent) were much more likely than Black women (32 percent) to say they’ve been unfairly stopped by law enforcement. Only 9 percent of white Americans say that has happened to them.
Although the majority of law enforcement agencies across the country “police our communities with professionalism, respect and integrity,” there have been incidents of “unlawful use of excessive force and deadly force by individual officers,” Clarke said during the discussion.
“We also see systemic, unconstitutional policing practices carried out by agencies,” she said. “And these problems undermine community trust and public safety.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, of Tallahassee, told Congresswoman Wilson during the meeting that Black communities continue to see over-policing and law enforcement officers using “excessive force” on “unarmed Black people, especially our men and boys.”
He pointed to various incidents involving Black men who have been killed by law enforcement, such as the killing of Floyd by a law enforcement officer in Minneapolis in May 2020.
“We have to fight for equal justice for our Black men and boys like never before,” Crump said. “We thought after George Floyd that we would see some of these atrocities slow down. … but yet time and time again we get the calls in the middle of the night, and again it’s another senseless killing of another Black man.”
Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, stressed the importance of empowering Black men and boys around the country, pointing to his own experiences in the criminal justice system.
“We can’t get greater, you can’t get greater, this country can’t get greater, until Black men and boys who have been impacted by the criminal justice system are empowered,” Meade said during the discussion.
“I really believe that the segment of our society that has been most weakened has been Black men and boys,” he said. Black men who have felonies face “limitations in education, we’re limited in access to jobs, we’re limited to democracy,” Meade said.
Meade is an advocate behind a movement to restore civil rights to thousands of former felons in Florida and has had his own rights restored.
Last week during the Florida special legislative session, Republicans approved a 20-8 advantage in Florida congressional races, destroying or diminishing Black-access seats in North and Central Florida.
Black lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House chambers went on the offensive.
At one point, they loudly chanted, wore t-shirts that read “Stop the Black Attack,” and staged a sit-in protest that shut down debate over Black representation in the redistricting process.
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