DeSantis’ suspension of Black prosecutor seen as racist voter suppression tactic

Democrats and advocates say the Florida governor's removal of State Attorney Monique Worrell is an assault on democracy and part of a growing trend to suppress the power of Black and brown voters. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is being lambasted by Democrats and advocates who say his removal of State Attorney Monique Worrell, a Black elected official in Orlando, is a grave assault on democracy and part of a growing trend by the Republican Party to suppress the power of Black and brown voters. 

Worrell, who was overwhelmingly elected in 2020 as the top prosecutor of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, was suspended by DeSantis on Wednesday. In a public statement, DeSantis attacked the criminal reform record of Worrell, a Black woman, and accused her of “allowing violent criminals to roam the streets and find new victims.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) suspended State Attorney Monique Worrell (right) who was elected in 2020 as the top prosecutor in the 9th Judicial Circuit. (Photo: Getty Images/ Screenshot from Fox 35 Orlando)

During a Wednesday press conference, Worrell defiantly chastised DeSantis, whom she called a “weak dictator,” for removing her from office for “political purposes” and vowed to “fight this in the court system.”

The suspension of Worrell sent shockwaves throughout Florida and in the nation’s capital, with members of Congress, including Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., and Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, swiftly condemning DeSantis, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, for putting politics and power over the will of the people.

“This abuse of power by Gov. DeSantis is not only an attack on Democratic Black leaders in Florida but an attack on our democracy itself,” Frost and Horsford said in a joint public statement. 

While this is not the first time DeSantis removed a state attorney from office over political differences, his targeting of Florida’s only Black female state attorney ignited outrage from Black leaders and community activists who say the move is undemocratic and racist.

“White supremacy is at the root of all of this,” said Jasmine Burney, founder of Equal Ground, a social justice organization based in Florida that is holding a rally Thursday evening to demand that the governor reinstate Worrell.

Burney told theGrio that while DeSantis is undoing the will of voters by removing Worrell in counties that are majority Black and Hispanic, he has also signed into law voter suppression bills, including one that purges vote-by-mail requests, which has impacted hundreds of thousands of Black voters. 

At an early voting site in Miami last November, a sign speaks against what some see as voter suppression in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ removal of a Black elected official, State Attorney Monique Worrell, is being called another sign of disenfranchisement. (AP Photo by Lynne Sladky, File)

“The last thing voters need is politicians…sticking their noses in affairs and dictating what solution should be at the most local level in a community when it comes to the decisions voters made,” she said.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, told theGrio that DeSantis’ suspension of Worrell is both a historical and contemporary battle over power led by white elected officials, including the expulsions of Tennessee Three lawmakers Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson earlier this year.

“We are seeing history repeat itself,” said Jones. “There’s always been a time in this country where white politicians in leadership diminish the power of Black politicians.”

He continued, “If we look at the changing of America, there’s a stronghold that some people are trying to hold on to in terms of how this country used to be. And if that includes making sure Black men and women in power never ascend higher, they will do that, i.e., Andrew Gillum.”

DeSantis notably appointed a Black man to serve as Worrell’s replacement, Andrew Bain, a conservative judge from the 9th Judicial Circuit and former assistant state attorney. But Burney dismissed the appointment as “using Black folks as tools toward each other to terrorize and control our communities.”

Referencing two Black men who joined a Florida education task force that helped develop a controversial school curriculum that instructs the state’s students that enslaved Black people benefited from slavery, Burney said, “Black Republican men are allowing themselves to be used as weapons for white supremacist extremists attacks.

Worrell and her supporters have dismissed the merits of DeSantis’ justification for her suspension, which she noted during Wednesday’s press conference has left her without pay or benefits to support her three children.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is putting politics over the will of the people, two Black members of Congress said of his removal of State Attorney Monique Worrell. Here, he speaks in June in South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

The Florida governor implied that Worrell’s handling of crime in Orange and Osceola counties has led to more crime, though she claims statistics from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orlando Police Department show that “crime is down” in the 9th Judicial Circuit.

Burney said that if DeSantis is really concerned about crime in Florida, he should focus more on his own record around public safety. “Crime is an issue across the entire state of Florida, and safety is not something that this state invests a lot of money in,” she explained. 

The governor’s disinvestment in housing, infrastructure and fair wages is directly related to any crime activity in the Sunshine State, she argued.

Instead of addressing the socioeconomic challenges that Floridians face, his detractors say, DeSantis is trafficking in petty politics to gin up media attention and money for his reportedly struggling presidential campaign.   

“It’s no different from what Donald Trump does. They believe that they can amplify their message only through making headlines for all the wrong reasons,” said Jones. He added, “DeSantis feeds off this.”

Worrell, who accused the presidential candidate of attempting to throw “red meat” to Republican primary voters, described her ousting as a “smokescreen for Ron DeSantis’ failing and disastrous presidential campaign.”

While he may have accomplished that goal in the short term, she said, ultimately, DeSantis “will be in the news nationally and internationally for the individual who has single-handedly destroyed democracy in the state of Florida.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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