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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Black activists speak out against DeSantis' 'anti-woke agenda'

Trenia Cox, member of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, speaks during a press conference hosted by Equal Ground at the State Capitol on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
Trenia Cox, member of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, speaks during a press conference hosted by Equal Ground at the State Capitol on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

They addressed several bills under consideration, including legislation that would to eliminate diversity programs and critical race theory from higher education.

More than 100 African American community leaders, activists and residents from across Florida traveled to the State Capitol on Wednesday to share their concerns with lawmakers on several issues.

"Individuals have participated in committee meetings," said Genesis Robinson, political director for Equal Ground, an organization that works to mobilize Black voters. "They've had an opportunity to engage directly with legislators through meetings, as well as coming to this reserved space at the Capitol to address the group."

Equal Ground organized the Day of Action event, along with the NAACP, the Florida Panhandle Coalition for Civic Engagement and Democracy for All Florida.

They spoke out against several Republican measures under consideration this year, including a proposal to raise the threshold for a referendum vote to amend the state constitution, a bill to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit and legislation that would to eliminate diversity programs and critical race theory from higher education.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has targeted what he describes as "woke" diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the state's colleges and universities.

"DeSantis is intentional in his desire to quiet our truth and he's moving with a deliberate purpose. How do we stand up against something like that?" said Esther Eugene is with the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP. "We encourage our communities and scholars to learn to read. Then what will we have? We're going to have a woke future generation."

Another proposal that community organizers want lawmakers to reject seeks to raise the threshold for a referendum vote to amend the state constitution from 60% to 66% or a 2/3 vote. "We're concerned about any effort to undermine our ability to vote," said Robinson.

If that were in effect several years ago, then the amendment that restored the right to vote for people with felony records might've not passed, Robinson said. An amendment to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 also wouldn't have passed if the threshold were higher, he said.

"The legislature is now going in to take away one of the few tools that residents have to act.”

If the measure passes, it would go before voters because it would require a state constitutional amendment.

More than a hundred people traveled from across Florida to the State Capitol on Wednesday to voice their concerns to lawmakers as part of Equal Ground's Day of Action event on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
More than a hundred people traveled from across Florida to the State Capitol on Wednesday to voice their concerns to lawmakers as part of Equal Ground's Day of Action event on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

DeSantis has said that he’ll sign a bill to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit when it reaches his desk. The House has already passed it, and it's expected to clear the Senate on Thursday.

Trenia Cox chairs the St. Petersburg NAACP's criminal justice committee. Cox explained she woke up at 3 a.m. to make the trip — primarily to voice her concerns about the bill.

Cox says she fears that permitless carry combined with the state’s stand your ground law would make African American residents more vulnerable.

Several studies show how gun violence disproportionately affects African Americans and how loosening carry laws increases gun homicide rates.

A recent study from the Journal of Urban Health shows that Black and Latino children are three-to-seven times more likely to experience a past-year gun homicide than white youth. And the American Journal of Public Health shows states with looser carry laws saw an increase in gun homicide rates over a 25-year period.

“It’s a double victimization," Cox said. "It just increases the likelihood of more homicides that could be avoided by police and non-police. I’m concerned, very concerned.”

In Cox's view, there are more pressing issues facing the state's residents. “We have a housing crisis," Cox said. "We have issues with insurance. People are suffering from disasters and they haven’t gotten paid."

"I think about education not being fully funded. I think about mental health not being funded adequately," she said. "Yet we spend all this time dealing with a bill geared toward increasing guns in our community."

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.