Open letter to the Florida Dems

Article by Jerry Ianelli for the Miami New Times. Published June 14, 2019.

Chair Terrie Rizzo, Executive Director Juan Peñalosa and Treasurer Garcia:

We are writing to you today as Floridian students, teachers, families, voters, workers, organizers, and people of conscience who believe no person deserves to be locked in a cage for a profit. We demand that you exercise moral leadership and authority by immediately giving back the $10,000 donation the Florida Democratic Party accepted from the private prison company, G4S Secure Solutions.

Last July, after years of organizing led by young people and their communities fighting for a future without the catastrophe of mass incarceration and deportation in our state, the Florida Democratic Party voted by an overwhelming majority to reject donations from private prison corporations and their lobbyists. The Party voted to be on the right side of history and to cut ties with a multi-billion dollar industry that profits from separating our families and putting children and poor people into cages. Six months later, in February, the party violated this resolution against the will of party membership, constituents, and Florida communities by accepting $10,000 from G4S. We have attached the resolution for your reference.

G4S Secure Solutions is the world’s largest private prison and detention company. Last year, they boasted over $7 billion dollars in revenue — money made from human suffering in Florida, across the country, and around the world. G4S and subsidiary companies run by former employees have faced lawsuits for documented human rights abuses across their facilities. G4S Youth Services, now known as TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, runs the majority of Florida’s youth jails. Under their watch, Florida’s young people have experienced extreme violence, sexual assault, physical abuse and even death. In 2015, a Polk County Grand Jury demanded that Highlands Youth Academy (HYA) in Avon Park be shut down following a riot involving more than 130 children and a pattern of violence and abuse. After the tragic Pulse shooting that took the lives of 49 LGBTQ Floridians, families of the victims filed a lawsuit against G4S — who employed the shooter. Since 2010, the company has received over 700 complaints from undocumented immigrants inside their detention facilities for assault and racism.

Accepting money from a company that has demonstrated such a total disregard for humanity implies that the Party, at the very least, passively approves of what G4S does and at its worst, supports their agenda, which goes against everything we stand for as community members who value life, the environment, and safety for all people.

As our country faces a humanitarian crisis with thousands of children and families being rounded up from our communities and caged like animals in concentration camps and Florida families face Trump’s ICE raids, every single one of us bear the responsibility to fight back. And you cannot fight back if you’re in the pockets of the very people whose corporate bottomline is premised on the building of more and more concentration camps, the separation of more and more families, and the caging of more and more children. You cannot speak out against Trump and his Florida acolytes while taking money from the very corporations that are pushing their cruel agenda. What incentive do you, our political leadership, have to end this humanitarian crisis and to protect our communities when you’re cozied up with the very corporations who stand to make billions if the crisis grows?

Florida locks up a higher percentage of its state residents than most nations on the planet do. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent contracting with companies like G4S, GEO Group, and CoreCivic are starving our communities for resources while abusing and brutalizing children and families. Refusing to do business with these companies is not mere partisan opinion; protecting the very lives of people who call Florida home is what is at stake. So, what side will you choose to be on? The people of Florida and the membership of the Florida Democratic Party who have entrusted you as party leaders OR the corrupt corporate donors who line their pockets with billions made from destruction?

We’ve made it clear that G4S, GEO Group Inc., and the entire private prison industry do not align with our values and vision for the FDP. We hope you choose to uphold the will of membership, organizational policy and the integrity of the Florida Democratic Party by immediately returning this private prison money and make a commitment to meet with advocacy organizations and community members to develop guidelines for accepting campaign contributions moving forward.

We invite you to stand with us in our vision for a future where all of our communities have the resources they need to stay safe and where our elected leaders respond to the needs and dreams of Florida families, not those of greedy, violent corporations.

Signing Organizations and Party Leaders:

Dream Defenders
Florida Immigrant Coalition
New Florida Majority
Organize Florida
SEIU 1199
SEIUFlorida Public Service Union
Women’s March Florida
Florida Student Power Network
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
Keys Immigrant Coalition
Miami Workers Center
Democracy for America Miami-Dade
Diáspora en Resistencia
Food Not Bombs Lake Worth
Black Lives Matter Alliance Palm Beach
Civic Media Center
Fight Toxic Prisons
FANM Haitian Women of Miami
Power U Center for Social Change
Florida People’s Advocacy Center

Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida

Stacey Patel, Chair, Brevard County Democratic Party
Brevard County Young Democrats

Bert Sise, Chair, Florida Keys Democrats
Debbie Hegland, Florida Keys Democrats
William Estes, Secretary, Florida Keys Democrats
Jimmy Weekley City Commissioner District 1 City of Key West

Debra Walker, State Committeewoman, Monroe County Democrats
Dakin Weekley, State Committeeman, Monroe County Democrats

People’s Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade

Russ Patterson, Hillsborough County State Committeeman

Melody Bernal, State Committeewoman, Osceola County Democrats

Wesley Beggs, President, Florida Young Democrats
Rasha Mubarak, Florida Young Democrat’s National Committee, VP for the Muslim Women’s Organization
Lee County Young Democrats
David Bogner, President, Lee County Young Democrats
Nancy Montalbano, Vice President, Lee County Democrats
Devin Carver, Secretary, Lee County Young Democrats and Executive Secretary Lee County Democratic Party
John Planas, Treasurer, Lee County Young Democrats

Wanda Schwerer, State Committeewoman, Pinellas County

Sarah Coutu, Chair, Santa Rosa County Democrats

Dream Defenders is an organization of multiracial, young, powerful people in Florida that are organizing to towards a new vision for safety away from prisons.

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