An Open Letter to Orlando City Commissioner Ings

For over 40 years, entrenched powers have hidden behind a political smokescreen using the “war on drugs” as a tool to criminalize specific communities, particularly those of color. According to a 22-year-old interview recently published in Harper's Magazine, one of Richard Nixon’s top advisers, John Ehrlichman, admits the “war on drugs” was mainly designed as an assault on Nixon’s two main “enemies” in his 1968 campaign: “the antiwar left and black people.” "We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did." The systemic effects of the ongoing demonization of both marijuana and minorities have seeped through the pipelines of our criminal justice system, disproportionately affecting our young people of color at every level of incarceration. Facing thousands of community signatures from a petition circulated by local community organization, Organize Now, the City of Orlando voted 4-3 to deprioritize arrests for small amounts of marijuana last month. Commissioner Samuel B. Ings from District 6 was among the dissidents, claiming the policy “encourages bad behavior.” District 6 encompasses a large African-American community directly impacted by the false “war on drugs” narrative.  His vote against deprioritization of minor marijuana offenses subjects many of his constituents to higher arrest rates than their white counterparts, and perpetuates negative stereotypes against the very community he represents. In 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than whites, even though usage by both is about the same. These criminal records are carried for life, affecting economic, employment, and educational opportunities. Despite calls for action from his community, Ings proves he is more concerned with serving the interests of local tourism giants making millions of dollars a year than protecting his very people from discriminatory practices. On three different occasions, Organize Now contacted Commissioner Ings for a meeting, but received no reply.   Deprioritizing arrests for non-violent misdemeanors would free up our criminal justice system and address real public safety challenges in our community. It's time Commissioner Ings listened to his constituents and acted on behalf of his community.  Orlando should follow the lead of 24 states and hundreds of municipalities across the country, breaking away from false, fear-mongering rhetoric and shifting its focus to its real public safety challenges. By building on progress and investing into local programs tackling the underlying causes of crime with the money saved by eliminating incarcerations for small amounts of marijuana possession, we can come together to find solutions that help our communities.   Sincerely,   Korey Wheeler, Co-Chair Racial Justice Committee

Orlando Climate Change Rally Seeks To Give Minorities Voice In Debate

Ever since U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio denied the existence of climate change earlier this year, protesters have waved signs outside his office demanding he acknowledge science. But a climate change rally in Orlando this week had a different message – one that demanded people of color and low-income families have their voices heard in the debate. Read more

Fast Food Workers rally for $15 minimum wage in downtown Orlando - Frank Torres, The Orlando Political Observer

Workers and activists rallied on the front steps of Orlando’s City Hall Thursday, joining organizers across Florida who showed support for the $15 minimum wage increase in New York.  Read more

"Fantasyland" Protest Calls Out GOP Clown Car Economics - Brooke Hines, The Florida Squeeze

The “Florida Deserves Better” than Fantasyland action was held Tuesday, June 2 outside of the hotel where Rick Scott held his “cattle call” for GOP candidates to strut their campaigns in front of monied-up interests like the Chamber of Commerce and their members.  Read more

Plasencia meets with Protesters outside his office to discuss Medicaid Expansion - Frank Torres, The Orlando Political Observer

What should have been another routine sign-waving demonstration, turned into an impromptu Town hall meeting, when State Representative Rene Plasencia met with protesters outside of his office, to answer their questions and clarify his position on the Medicaid expansion fight, that currently has the State House and State Senate at odds over a budget. Read more

Citizens voice concerns about body cameras for police officers - Tracy Jacim, WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) -Law enforcement agencies across the country are adopting the use of body cameras.  They are seen as a way for officers to protect themselves from false accusations of police brutality and for citizens to protect themselves aggressive use of force. Read more

50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday honored in Orlando - Caitlin Dineen, Orlando Sentinel

Even though she lived more than 400 miles away from Selma, Ala., Brenda Purnell-Morris knew the impact of March 7, 1965, also known as Bloody Sunday. Read more

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