Everyone deserves to feel safe in Central Florida, and the message from protesters yesterday throughout Orlando was heard loud and clear.
I have been proud to play a leading role in reforming our criminal legal system in Tallahassee and have visited prisons, jails, probation offices, juvenile detention centers, residential facilities, and nonprofits who implement intervention/diversion programs.
I have done ride-alongs with police, coordinated de-escalation efforts with officers during community events, and have met with both correctional officers and members of our incarcerated communities along with their loved ones. This has allowed me to better understand mass incarceration and the dire circumstances taking place within Florida's prisons from all perspectives.
I have participated in many anti-racist events, and joined Black Lives Matter advocates yesterday at City Hall.
I take no donations from private prison companies, and have filed and co-sponsored legislation to reform Florida’s penal code, giving sentencing authority back to judges, and setting statutory protections for minors. These types of policies would not only help end over-arresting in Florida but they save the state money, and make the job of a law enforcement officer easier.
Despite our efforts, it’s not enough. We need police unions, sheriff & chief associations, and prosecutors to engage with these reform efforts. We need civil citations implemented to reduce unnecessary incarceration, bail bond reform, citizen review boards, and to restore voters rights. We need elected officials at every level of government to move past archaic and ineffective “hard on crime” policies -- or if they don't, replace those politicians in November.
Empathy training, Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), and mental health resources need to become a norm for police and correctional officers-- because I can only imagine the stress folks carry everyday and the numbing that can happen when you feel that everyone is against you.
We also need to see more investment in addressing community neglect and concentrated disadvantage. Though not all cases of excessive force or racism involve poverty, we do know that many folks who turn to crime do so because they are struggling, and their basic needs are not being met. Health care for all, minimum wage increases, tax reform, environmental justice, and investing in our public schools can all help to change this.
Finally racism — I saw a tweet the other day that said, “this isn’t about Democrat vs Republican, this is about all of us against racism.”
I couldn't agree more, and understand that discussing racism can make people feel uncomfortable. It’s not something our nation talks about often, and it forces us to examine parts of our lived experiences and/or to relive memories that we try to forget. Embrace discomfort, recognize the pain felt by directly impacted people, and let’s learn and grow together.
I want to add that images of police brutality across the country towards peaceful civilians and journalists has been unacceptable, and the looting of businesses by some causes harm to anti-racism efforts. It was alarming for me to see the Orlando Police Department use tear gas, and I expressed my concern with that decision to city officials.
I encourage everyone to maintain peace during this time and remind myself every morning that no amount of rage will ever compare to my love for humanity. That love is too vast, and it gives me hope for the future.
Rep. Anna V. Eskamani