Too many Florida police departments reluctant to protect Black voters at the polls | Opinion

Rhonda Thomas
·3 min read

As Florida embarks on its last week of early voting, voters of color are experiencing great anxiety — and for good reason. This year has been unlike any other we’ve experienced, from the senseless shootings of unarmed people of color to the president using his platform to stoke racial fears.

That’s why, many of us were alarmed — but, sadly, not surprised — when police officer Daniel Ubeda showed up at a Government Center polling site in Miami with his badge, gun and face mask with the words with “Trump 2020” and “No more bull----.” Although the Miami Police Department provided a swift and strongly worded condemnation of the officer’s behavior, it does not provide much comfort to the thousands of Black, Latinx and young voters still heading to the polls and already rightly concerned about voter suppression and intimidation.

We know Ubeda’s behavior is not an anomaly. There is a concerted effort by extremists to harass and depress voter turnout in Miami’s Black and brown communities. In fact, just as many of us were learning about Ubeda’s inappropriate behavior, we also learned that dozens of registered Democrats had received emails threatening them if they didn’t vote for President Trump.

However, we refuse to let these scare tactics intimidate us and keep us from having our voices heard. This is the most important election of our lifetime, and we will continue to fight to have our right to vote protected.

As a pastor, it is my responsibility to defend, protect and advocate for the rights of my community. My activism to expand voting rights isn’t separate from my ministry — it is birthed from it.

As part of this activism, my organization, Faith In Florida, initially reached out to police departments across the state to discuss how we can work together to protect voters from harassment and potential violence.

Unfortunately, each time we tried to discuss concrete plans and next steps to keep voters safe, the officers would ignore our requests and instead vent their frustrations about the George Floyd case and the resulting protests. Despite our attempts to bring them back to discussing the matter of safety at the polls, it became apparent that the officers’ attention was elsewhere.

In an ideal world, it would be clear to everyone that law enforcement has a duty to uphold its oath to protect and serve all Americans, regardless of their race, class or Zip code. Yet, this is not our reality.

Still, we remain undeterred. History has also shown us that when law enforcement — and the state — have failed us, we as Black people still have ourselves, our communities and our institutions.

It is in the spirit of, and respect for, this inherited legacy that Faith in Florida has been hosting “Souls to the Polls” events across the state that bring communities together with food, music and activities to mobilize them to vote. My faith and the history of those who have come before me have taught me that all people, regardless of what they look like or where they come from, have the right to exercise their right to vote without being harmed. And we have the right and ability to come together as a people and community to mobilize one another to vote.

Voting is a fundamental right and certainly isn’t one we will forfeit when everything is on the line. We may not have all of law enforcement on our side, but history, indisputably, is. Our future generations will look to us to right all the wrongs of the last four years, and we will continue to work tirelessly to do right by them.

Pastor Rhonda Thomas is the executive director of Faith in Florida.