Suppression, intimidation on mind of Black voters in state

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Supporters respond to former president Barack Obama as he delivers remarks in Orlando during a drive-in rally for Joe Biden at Tinker Field on Oct. 27.

JOE BURBANK/ORLANDO SENTINEL/TNS

BY DAPHNE TAYLOR
FLORIDA COURIER

The coveted Black vote. All sides know it’s going to make or break what many are calling the most important election in our lifetime.

Republicans and Democrats alike are pulling out all the stops to make sure their constituents turn out, cast their votes, and that fairness prevails in the process – even if some serious foibles take place such as Jared Kushner stating that Black people must “want to be successful” in order for his father-in-law’s policies to help them.

Obama trashes Trump

In the past few days, former President Barack Obama, knowing Florida is key this time around as usual, took to the stage in Miami and Orlando – stumping for his former vice president Joe Biden. And in his scathing commentary about Trump, Obama touted race as among center stage.

“This president doesn’t care about you. When you have a president who won’t call out or even criticize White supremacists, that’s a problem. It affects the way our children see things. Black Lives Matter,” he quipped.

He says Trump is incapable of empathizing with certain people. In the drive-up rally in Miami on Oct. 24, supporters honked their horns when the former president shouted that Black lives do indeed matter.

Pam Keith’s take

In Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which includes portions of Palm Beach County, plus Martin and St. Lucie counties, Democratic candidate for Congress Pam Keith echoes Obama’s summation about race in the current administration.

“Donald Trump wants to be king of America,” she said blasting him in a telephone interview with the Florida Courier on Oct. 28.

“He wants to ensure the welfare of one class of people and dominate over everyone else. And my opponent, Brian Mast, is only following behind him,” she continued.

“Brian Mast wants to keep White men in power. He’s loyal to Donald Trump. If Trump is out of power, Mast is out of power. We’re at this point because we elected people who don’t care if we actually die.’’

Appeal to Black men

And that’s the reason the former president says everyone has to turn out. In Miami he told the mostly Black crowd that Black men are needed at the polls this time – and in record numbers. And it’s a thrust being made across the state.

In 2016, fewer African American men turned out to vote than any other voting block. Today, many believe everything is on the line and even Black men must, and will, show up.

In Palm Beach County, four powerful Black men are calling on 500 Black men to show  up at an early voting site in Riviera Beach on Sunday, Nov. 1 in a show of solidarity and to cast their votes together.

“We’re meeting at 3 p.m. at Wells Recreation Center and we’ll be there until the last man votes,” said Riviera Beach Councilman Douglas Lawson, one of the organizers.

‘All hands on deck’

Lawson, along with West Palm Beach Commissioner Cory Neering, political strategist Michael Carter and prominent Attorney Richard Ryles organized the event.

Ryles is also president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Palm Beach County and says the survival of the Black race is at stake.

“We organized this event in order to mobilize Black men to vote in this election. Our survival requires us to be organized like at no other time in history. In other words, all hands on deck,” Ryles said.

Preparing for the worst

And like others around the key battleground state of Florida, issues like voter suppression and voter intimidation are on the minds of Ryles and others.

As head of the Democratic Black Caucus of Palm Beach County, Ryles held a news conference recently calling for police protection at the polls on Election Day due to Trump’s promise to have his supporters at the polls Nov. 3. Ryles says due to Trump’s rhetoric Blacks across the country have “targets on their backs.”

“We are under attack by far-right militia groups and it’s getting worse, not better. That’s why the Justice Department and the FBI are planning for the possibility of election-day violence and disruptions. We have to plan as well,” Ryles stated, calling for law enforcement to be on hand in South Florida.

AME pastors’ concern

In addition to voter intimidation, others are concerned about voter suppression of the Black vote. The AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Ministers Alliance in Duval County issued a statement of their concerns over the discontinuation of an early voting site at historically Black Edward Waters College in Jacksonville.

“Today, we have gathered to bring further attention to the Supervisor of Election’s decision to discontinue the early voting location on the campus of Edward Waters College,’’ the Oct. 22 statement read.

“As a result of this decision, many residents in that community have been negatively impacted. Although we are seeing record voting turnout our city, state, and nation, there are still pockets and communities where limited access to voting locations is problematic.”

Ballot rejection issues

In addition, a coalition of Florida’s voting rights advocates hosted a zoom news conference this week addressing issues of concern to Black and Brown voters, such as the disproportionate vote-by-mail ballot rejection rates for Black voters as well as other voting issues.

The group noted that there is robust voter education in Pinellas County, which includes Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. Therefore, they have much lower rejection rates.

Many other counties around the state are problematic and the advocates are calling on counties to address those concerns.

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