Editorial Roundup: Florida

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers: ___

May 29

The Miami Herald on Patricia Ripley, a woman accused of pushing her autistic son into a lake and letting him drown, initially telling authorities two black men kidnapped her son

The tragic story of a Miami-Dade mother who led her autistic son to a golf course lake and, police say she admitted, let him drown is horrific. Unfortunately, there’s another tragedy, an enduring American tragedy, underlying the first.

Before her arrest in her son’s death, Patricia Ripley wove a tired, cynical tale featuring the “usual suspects” that she thought would be most readily believed. Ripley told police that two black men ambushed her car and kidnapped her son.

The lie relies on the same racist tropes denigrating African-American men that, this one week alone, have dominated national news.

Ripley originally told police that “two black men” had kidnapped her 9-year-old son, Alejandro. “Two black men” sideswiped her car, ran her off the road and demanded drugs.

MOM TOLD A LIE

Because of her accusation, authorities launched a statewide manhunt for those “two black men” in a blue sedan who had kidnapped an autistic white boy. How might that have ended? Unfortunately, trust in the police has deteriorated in some quarters to the point that even enlightened whites ask that question.

Maybe the same way it ended in Minneapolis for an African-American man, George Floyd, who was thrown to the ground by police, one of whom knelt on his neck for interminably long minutes. Floyd later died.

Monday, in New York’s Central Park, Christian Cooper asked Amy Cooper to leash her dog, as it rambunctiously ran through an area birdwatchers frequent. White Amy Cooper took offense at black Christian Cooper’s audacity to ask her to follow the law and, ultimately, called police, calmly telling him that she was going to say that “an African-American man” was threatening her. Only when speaking to the dispatcher did she do her best to sound panicked. The African-American man’s video, of course, told the real story. Cooper’s lie, like Ripley’s, was cynical and deliberate. They both wielded racism like the weapon that it is.

In Miami-Dade, police dismantled Ripley’s story. The boy’s body was found the following day floating in a golf course lake.

RACISM A ‘DARK PLACE’

Christian Cooper told ABC’s “The View” that Amy Cooper “was trying to bring death by cops on my head. This was an incident between a bird watcher and a dog walker, and she took it to a very dark place.”

Americans only recently learned of another act fueled by the same evil sense of privilege, though so much more bloodthirsty. In February, Ahmaud Arbery a black jogger in Georgia, was shot and killed by a father-son team of vigilantes who decided Arbery was a burglary suspect. They confronted him as he ran. Ultimately, Arbery was shot to death when he dared try to defend himself. The town’s police wanted to arrest the pair. The top prosecutor, however, didn’t see a problem. Only video released months later has made justice a possibility — maybe. And, it turns out, few, if any, burglaries had been reported in the neighborhood.

Alejandro Ripley did nothing to deserve to die. His survivors are suffering, are in pain. It’s very possible that his mother was in a different “dark place,” overwhelmed by her non-verbal special-needs son. Still, her offensive cover story is bizarrely echo the stories of other people who did not deserve to die the way they did: black men killed by the power of the deadly white lie.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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May 29

The Sun Sentinel on President Donald Trump stating he would move the Republican National Convention to Florida because North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper won’t commit to relaxing strict social distancing regulations:

This is a tale of one president, three governors and what appear to be incompatible values in the face of a pandemic.

President Trump, deprived of the mass rallies that energize his campaign and feed his spirit, is desperate for a mass audience and thunderous ovations at the Republican National Convention, presently scheduled for Charlotte, NC, in August.

But that state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, won’t commit to relaxing strict social distancing regulations that are saving lives from the coronavirus.

So Trump is threatening to yank the convention from Charlotte and find another place to host it, perhaps in Florida.

Cooper is unmoved, unbluffed.

“It’s okay for political conventions to be political,” he remarked Tuesday, “but pandemic response cannot be. We’re talking about something that’s going to happen three months from now, and we don’t know what our situation is going to be. This virus is still going to be with us in August, and we’re going to have to take steps to protect people.”

That’s how any governor should talk. The government has no higher duty than to safeguard health and lives.

Cooper explained that he had asked the Republican National Committee to say how it would attempt to minimize risk, and whether the president was still set on attendees not wearing face masks or practicing social distancing.

Without waiting for Cooper’s response, the Republican governors of Florida and Georgia seized the moment to offer their states in the event Trump isn’t bluffing.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis qualified his bid with a remark about safety precautions, but left the clear impression that Trump would get whatever he wants.

He said he’d even welcome the Democratic convention because “it would be good for us … in terms of the economic impact.”

The Democrats, as it happens, aren’t talking about moving their convention, which is also scheduled for August, in Milwaukee. However, they are seriously considering limiting the size or even conducting it virtually, on the internet. Good for them.

Meanwhile, DeSantis and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp jumped the gun on some serious questions, among them whether any of their communities could prepare on such short notice for a convention drawing at least 25,000 people. The political parties typically require immense subsidies from local governments and private contributions, premised on the idea that a convention is good for local businesses.

“It would be irresponsible to consider hosting a convention of that scale at this time,” said a spokeswoman for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Bob Buckhorn, a former mayor, remarked that it took “literally two years and, between us and the federal government tens of millions of dollars” to prepare to host the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Politico reports that Jacksonville would likely be the host city, though it’s hard to imagine a Jacksonville host committee raising enough money to meet its required share. Plus, contracts have long been signed in Charlotte.

A more basic question, of course, is whether either party should proceed with a business-as-usual convention in the face of a lethal epidemic for which there is still no vaccine and no cure.

Health scientists regard mass gatherings, such as either party’s quadrennial convention, as “super-spreader” events. Delegates and guests who arrived in good health would be vulnerable to infection owing to the crowded conditions, and would take the virus home to all 50 states and beyond.

Some in Charlotte, a Democratic stronghold where the city commission approved its bid by a 6-5 vote, would be happy to see it go elsewhere. When the Republicans chose Charlotte two years ago, the Los Angeles Times noted that the city “faced little serious competition.”

There’s a question underlying all the others, and it predates the coronavirus: Why persist in holding enormous conventions that have outlived their original purpose?

It has been quite a while since there was any doubt about who had already won their nominations. For the Democrats, the last time was in 1972, when an “anybody but” movement failed to displace George McGovern. The Republican convention of 1976 featured Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful attempt to replace President Gerald Ford as the party’s standard bearer. Both nominees, it should be noted, lost in November.

Ever since, nominations have been decided far in advance by state primaries and caucuses. No suspense remains but, occasionally, for the nominees’ announcements of their running mates.

The conventions have become so dull, in fact, that the television networks no longer bother with gavel-to-gavel coverage. Only the delegates — and even very few of them — pay attention to the mind-numbing succession of speeches.

It’s great theater, of course, for those who care — not to mention a fine opportunity for endless partying.

Most of all, they provide the nominees with the largest free media exposure of their entire campaigns. But it’s free only in the sense that others are paying for it.

This time, the price of that mass event would include lives needlessly lost to a dangerous contagious disease.

Neither convention could possibly be worth it.

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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May 22

Florida Today on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ explanation on the firing of Rebekah Jones from the Florida Department of Health:

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ explanation that the firing of Rebekah Jones from the Florida Department of Health is a “non-issue,” and that she is an under-qualified disgruntled employee of questionable character, just got a lot harder to believe.

Jones, the data scientist who’s credited with building Florida’s nationally acclaimed COVID-19 dashboard, finally broke her silence Friday evening, May 22, after news broke earlier that week of her ousting.

What she said deserves an investigation into what she described as efforts by DOH leadership to manipulate data to help the governor’s reopening plans.

Jones gave enough cover for the governor to do the right thing: She wrote in a statement on her website, that she “never stated nor implied that the Governor was involved with asking me to manipulate, delete and hide data.”

It’s clearly in his best interest to find out what was happening at the DOH.

In a CNN interview and information she provided to FLORIDA TODAY, Jones lays out bombastic allegations that have become harder to ignore. According to reporting by FLORIDA TODAY’s Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, she alleged or showed that:

— A senior official asked for the entire dashboard to be taken offline because it provided too much data;

— She was asked to massage the data for specific rural counties so that they met the statistical criteria to re-open;

— The state has changed the way COVID-19 testing positivity rates are calculated to better suit the governor’s arguments;

Among the most troublesome emails she released is this:

“This whole site needs to come down,” Scott Pritchard, interim director of DOH’s Infectious Disease Prevention and Investigations Section, wrote. “It literally has all the data files.”

Jones also said Friday Deputy Secretary of Health Shamarial Roberson asked her to “manipulate the data to mislead the public to support reopening mostly rural counties.”

The DOH called the accusation “patently false.”

FLORIDA TODAY could not immediately verify the authenticity of those emails, but the DOH can by releasing Jones’ emails and personnel files, as FLORIDA TODAY has requested.

Only an investigation will clarify what truly happened and move us beyond he-said-she-said. If the the DOH and DeSantis want to continue to spin this as a non-issue, the onus is on them to come up with evidence that refutes Jones’ allegations.

We have yet to hear from DeSantis since Jones’ May 22 accusations. We hope he ends his smear campaign against Jones, which includes bringing up past run-ins with the law that are unrelated to her work. She faces one misdemeanor count of cyberstalking, stemming from what appears to be an acrimonious breakup, which led to other cases that were closed without conviction.

DeSantis and his allies have also tried to diminish her role as the dashboard’s architect. She wrote on her website that she wrote the script to pull data from a database managed by epidemiologists and processed hundreds of raw data lines to create the website. The company that provides the software tools used to build the dashboard also credited her with building it and managing it in an April article.

DeSantis’ office said earlier this week Jones showed a pattern of insubordination when handling data “without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”

If being insubordinate meant refusing to go along with data manipulation, then that pales in comparison with what Roberson and other top DOH officials were allegedly asking her to do: Mislead the public.

No matter Jones’ past run-ins with the law, her lack of adherence to the DOH’s chain of command or even whether she was the true architect of the dashboard, this story is not about Jones anymore. It’s about whether there’s a culture in the DOH to alter, twist or hide information to please a governor who received criticism for his early efforts to control the coronavirus — and to expeditiously get rid of whistleblowers.

Without an investigation, public trust in the data we’ve relied to reopen the state will suffer. This is the latest blow to Florida’s transparency and credibility after the state suppressed information of coronavirus deaths reported by the state’s medical examiners, which was finally made public on May 21.

There’s so much more we need to learn. But as the onion gets peeled, its layers show there’s enough to say that the governor’s office must take this seriously.

Online: https://www.floridatoday.com/