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Can Black Lives Matter Stop Police Abuse in Orlando?

The death of George Floyd earlier this year at the knee of a police officer served as a catalyst for the 7-year-old Black Lives Matter movement, sparking nationwide protests and civil unrest.

Orlando, like countless cities across the country, has experienced its fair share of police violence. From 2013 through 2020 so far, according to MappingPoliceViolence.org, police killed 19 people, 10 of whom were black. While 52 percent of the victims were black, this number is disproportionate to Orlando’s black population, which is roughly 25 percent. All but one were killed by gunshot. Max Garcia, a 22-year-old black man and robbery suspect, died of infections from police dog bites.

Police abuse isn’t always fatal. According to the Orlando Sentinel’s Focus on Force investigative report, “the Orlando Police Department used force 3,100 times from 2010 to 2014 – more than double the rate of some similarly sized agencies. The city and its insurer paid $3.6 million in police-brutality claims.”

Use of force is often warranted, but it’s the excessive use of force that’s problematic. Orlando Weekly details several cases of police abuse at the hands or feet of Orlando police officers in 2018. All four complaints of police abuse against the department that year involved black males. One, a 13-year-old boy, was kicked in the chest while in a “submissive” position. Another black male was tased from behind in a parking garage with his hands in his pockets, standing still. A 29-year-old jaywalker was tased while in a “submissive” position after he tripped and fell during a police chase. The fourth victim, a 20-year-old shoplifting suspect was hit in the legs three times with a baton despite already being handcuffed.

While none of these cases come close to the horror we all felt when viewing video of George Floyd’s desperate, breathless pleas, they are disturbing nonetheless and illustrate why the Black Lives Matters movement exists: police abuse is wrong and it disproportionately affects Black lives.

A Brief History of Black Lives Matter

In February 2012, Trayvon Martin, a black, unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator for his community in Sanford, Florida. The teenager apparently appeared “suspicious,” leading Zimmerman to call the police and then take chase when the teenager began running. When police arrived, Zimmerman said he had shot Martin, was taken in for questioning, and released. Nationwide protests began soon after with more than 2.2 million signatures collected on a Change.org petition that called for Zimmerman’s arrest.

In April 2012, Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder but ultimately in July 2013, a jury acquitted him and found not guilty. This was the moment that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and movement. Three black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi formed the Black Lives Matter Network, which is an online platform that brings activists together with a shared set of principles and goals.

Over the years, Black Lives Matter groups have demonstrated against police brutality and racially charged actions involving dozens of Black lives taken needlessly: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and many others. George Floyd’s death in May 2020 led to more than 450 major protests in cities across the nation and around the globe. Hundreds of people gathered in Orlando outside the Orange County Courthouse demanding an end to police brutality.

What Black Lives Matter Hopes to Achieve

The Black Lives Movement is bigger and more energized than ever. Its most driving goal is to end police brutality, but the means of getting there vary. Some of the movement’s ideas to stop police violence include:

  • “Defund” police — The thought here is that police departments are well funded, if not overfunded, while social and mental health services are not. The concept of “defunding” the police is to divert some of these funds to mental health services and other social services that may be better equipped to deal with certain crises than armed police officers.
  • Ban stop-and-frisk — “Stop and frisk” tactics often target blacks and are considered unreasonable searches and seizures, which are protected under the U.S. Constitution.
  • Decriminalize sex work — Decrim Now, an organization pushing for the decriminalization of sex work claims that “policing and criminalization of sex work is one of the primary sites of racial profiling, police violence, and mass incarceration of black and brown women, girls, and trans and gender nonconforming folks.”
  • Remove police from schools — The American Civil Liberties Union’s Bullies in Blue: Origins and Consequences of School Policing report, claims that putting police in schools results in criminalizing adolescents of color.
  • End cash bail — The American Center for Progress says that cash bail “criminalizes poverty” and “perpetuates inequities in the justice system that are disproportionately felt by communities of color and those experiencing poverty.”
  • Stronger accountability for police misconduct — Remember that 13-year-old boy who was kicked in the chest while in a “submissive” position by an Orlando Police Department police officer? The officer was “disciplined” with a 16-hour suspension, which he was able to fulfill by using vacation time.
Can Black Lives Matter Stop Police Abuse in Orlando?

Can Black Lives Matter Stop Police Abuse in Orlando?

Can Black Lives Matter Stop Police Abuse in Orlando, Florida?

One of the most important aspects of a movement such as Black Lives Matter is raising awareness of an issue. The Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 has been successful in doing this.

This summer, Orlando police Chief Orlando Rolón announced that he would explicitly prohibit the use of choke holds and no-knock warrants. According to the Orlando Sentinel, he told the City Council, “We need to make sure that our department understands that we have got to mirror the expectations of our citizens and we have to meet those expectations. We‘re committed, moving forward, to making sure that our department understands that the community’s asking for change and we’ll bring about that change.”

Here at Leighton Law, we sincerely hope to see the end of police abuse once and for all. Until it stops, we are committed to holding officers accountable for their actions and protecting the civil rights of our citizens. Supporting our police and law enforcement is not inconsistent with holding them accountable for abuse. The only way to stop excessive force and police brutality is to call it out and hold those agencies accountable so they can stop it. Our experienced trial attorneys have secured some of the highest settlements and verdicts in the state of Florida for our clients. If you or a loved one has suffered from police brutality, schedule a free, no obligation consultation to learn more about your rights.

Article by:

John Leighton

A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite

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