Aramis Ayala, the first Black woman state attorney in Florida history, just made a heroic move by refusing to seek the death penalty in any case–and Florida Governor Rick Scott removed her from a key case and handed it over to a white prosecutor in another county.1
Even the victim’s family is in support of Ayala’s decision to not pursue the death penalty.2 Gov. Scott is punishing her for doing the right thing and undermining the voters who chose her–and he must be stopped.
In November, Ayala ousted incumbent Jeff Ashton. She ran on a daring and progressive platform in which she championed dramatic changes to the criminal justice system that would shift the power and control from law enforcement to enhancing safety and well-being of community members. As State Attorney, Ayala understands that justice deserves to be in the hands of the people. Now, she’s facing a careless and disrespectful move from a governor who continues to trample on any real progress towards criminal justice reform–we must have her back to make sure other prosecutors follow in her footsteps.
This is about more than just the death penalty. Black communities and our allies have built a movement over the last year to replace the worst prosecutors with leaders who want to change the system from the inside out–like Aramis Ayala and Kim Foxx in Chicago. Just like every other movement that has built power for Black people, this movement is being met with anti-Blackness, right wing resistance, and anti-democratic tactics intended to keep our communities trapped under the leadership of white conservatives.
We’ve seen it before. After the election of the first Black President, we saw a wave of voter suppression laws intended to constrain Black political power and right-wing politicians refusing to let President Obama conduct the most basic aspects of his duties like appointing a Supreme Court Justice. We have to send a clear signal that when it comes to real leaders like Aramis Ayala, we’ve got their backs.
During his tenure, Governor Rick Scott has repeatedly failed to step up to other state attorneys when they did not serve justice. He shunned the family of Trayvon Martin. In 2012, when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by cop wannabe George Zimmerman, Governor Scott moved too slowly to pursue justice for the teenage boy and his family. It was only after urgent pleas from protesters and community members that Scott finally stepped up and appointed a special prosecutor. But who he appointed was damaging–Angela Corey–whom he knew would support his “Stand Your Ground” law where he saw fit. Instead of fighting for justice, Corey allowed Zimmerman to get off. Since then, the Governor hasn’t done a thing about the criminalization of Black folks or the laws that allow them to be killed in cold blood.
Yet, Governor Scott did not even wait a day to take State Attorney Aramis Ayala off this crucial case, diminishing and undermining her position as a prosecutor. He is sending a scary and unfair message — the voters’ choice in who they elect to serve real justice does not matter.
Local prosecutors are the most influential decision makers in the criminal justice system and their work has an enormous impact on the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Our communities cannot afford to have elected leaders put their own interests and power above the people. That is why Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala–someone who will stay committed to making justice a reality for all people–is the kind of leader that we need. We cannot stand by and let someone like Governor Rick Scott silence her and the voters who elected her to fix our criminal justice system. Let’s show up for Ayala’s bravery and integrity.
Until Justice is real
Rashad, Arisha, Scott, Clarise, Anay, Enchanta, Malaya, and the rest of the Color of Change Team
“Gov. Scott appoints special prosecutor after Ayala says she won’t pursue death penalty, ” Orlando Sentinel, 03.16.2017. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/7602?t=7&akid=7127.1174326.9kEgwY
- “Father of Sade Dixon speaks out about prosecutor’s stance on death penalty, ” Fox 35, 03.16.2017.