by David A. Love
Remember the name Aramis Ayala. She is a black woman and a Florida prosecutor who is taking a stand against the death penalty, and she is catching hell for it. It’s a lesson we know all too well: when high-profile black professionals in positions of power take a stand against injustice, the system will attempt to put them down and silence them.
Ayala, the Orange-Osceola County State Attorney in Orlando, is the first black elected prosecutor in Florida state history. She has decided not to seek the death penalty in capital murder cases. As a result of her move to not seek the death penalty for Markeith Loyd — who was charged with killing both his pregnant girlfriend and an Orlando police officer — Gov. Rick Scott removed her from the case. A special prosecutor is now handling the case, and Ayala has filed a motion to stay on it.
“To put it bluntly, law enforcement officers throughout Florida are outraged over the decision that was made in this case,” said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings regarding Ayala. “I’ve also heard from many citizens who share the same feeling.” A Seminole County court employee was fired for advocating on Facebook that Ayala “should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree.”
Described as a “long shot” by the Orlando Sentinel, Aramis Ayala received $1.4 million from George Soros in her campaign bid for the top prosecutor spot, one of a dozen reform-minded D.A. candidates the philanthropist supported. In Central Florida, which is becoming increasingly black and Latino, Ayala’s principled death penalty stance makes sense.
A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that support for the death penalty has been on the decline. And while a majority of whites (63 percent) have supported executions in recent years, only 34 percent of African-Americans and 45 percent of Latinos have approved of death sentences. There is a reason for this racial disparity in support for the death penalty: People of color are the ones being put to death, a remnant of Jim Crow lynching, and a reflection of an unjust system rife with abuse, corruption and racial bias, in which 95 percent of the elected prosecutors are white, and 83 percent are men.
Florida is particularly concerning because it has the highest number of exonerations of death row inmates due to innocence, which is 23 people. Only this month did the state pass a law requiring a unanimous jury recommendation before judges can impose the death penalty. Previously, only 10 jurors sufficed.
Both history and current events have shown that when prominent black folks use their positions to stand up for racial justice, they find themselves under the gun. Some of the more recent examples include Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore State’s Attorney who took a stand and went after the cops involved in the death of Freddie Gray. Three officers were acquitted, and the charges against the others were dropped, and now the officers are going after her.
Another example is Colin Kaepernick, the NFL star who took a stand by taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of police violence against black people. Now, Trump is taking credit for the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s unemployment.
Aramis Ayala is only doing what black leaders are expected to do when placed in positions to effect change. Now, the community must back her up, and all those who stand up and speak up for justice.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.