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Jacksonville activists respond to State Attorney Angela Corey running for a third term

Vow renewed opposition to her racist prosecution practices
By Dave Schneider |
June 8, 2015
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Jacksonville, FL – On June 2, State Attorney Angela Corey kicked off her campaign for a third term in the 2016 elections. In 2008, Corey became the state attorney for Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, which encompasses Duval, Nassau and Clay counties. She was reelected in 2012 after running unopposed.

The announcement drew harsh criticism and renewed calls by local activists for Corey's removal from office.

“Angela Corey has no backbone when it comes to charging police officers,” said Opio Sokoni, a community activist and scholar in Jacksonville. He continued, “This is true even when they have proven to have broken policy in their actions that have hurt and killed citizens. This is a defining issue of our time. We need a prosecutor that will hold officers accountable when they do wrong. We should not wish for a prosecutor like the one they have in Baltimore. We must seek out and elect one.”

Tefa Galvis, a lead organizer with the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and a co-founder of group's Angela Corey Out NOW campaign, said, “Corey running for a third term means that we have to keep on fighting and organizing. We will continue to stand against the policies and methods that she uses on our community, especially on Black and Latino youth.”

Since taking office, Corey led the state of Florida in the direct commitment and incarceration of juvenile offenders, most of whom are African American.

Angela Corey's war on Black youth

Corey's election as State Attorney in 2008 signaled a nightmarish new chapter in the state's war on Jacksonville's Black community. Far and away, Corey's 4th Judicial Circuit leads the state of Florida in direct commitment of juvenile offenders, most of whom are African American. From 2009 to 2013, Corey's office incarcerated 1475 juveniles in the Jacksonville area alone, compared to just 32 in Miami during the same period [see note 1]. In nearly four out of five of those cases, Corey threatened the juvenile defendant with being charged as an adult in order to coerce a plea deal, since adult charges carry harsher penalties [see note 2].

While the criminal injustice system in Florida and the U.S. disproportionately incarcerates Black and Latino people, the situation in Jacksonville is even more disastrous. In the entire state of Florida from 2006 to 2011, 52% of the male juvenile offenders tried as adults were Black, while white male juveniles comprised only 25% of those tried as adults. These inequalities alone are staggering, but in Corey's 4th Judicial District during the same period, Black males comprised 70% of all juvenile offenders tried as adults, while white males comprised just 18% [see note 2].

The Zimmerman verdict and Marissa Alexander

In 2013, Corey gained national attention for her mishandling of the trial of George Zimmerman, the racist vigilante who killed 16-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty by a mostly white jury, which many activists around the country attribute to Corey's botched prosecution.

A year later, Corey nearly botched another prosecution of a racist white vigilante, Michael Dunn, for murdering 17-year old Jordan Davis. After state prosecutors failed to win a guilty verdict for the first-degree murder charge of killing Jordan, Dunn was retried and eventually convicted in 2014, receiving a sentence of 90-plus years in prison.

Corey's failure to get Zimmerman convicted on first-degree murder contrasted sharply with her record of over-prosecuting Black women in north Florida. Most well known was Corey's relentless prosecution of Marissa Alexander for firing a warning shot in the air to defend herself from domestic abuse. Alexander was denied protection under Florida's Stand Your Ground law and was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in May 2012.

Corey personally prosecuted Alexander and obtained a 20-year prison sentence for the African American mother under Florida's mandatory minimum laws. That sentence was overturned, and a large national movement to free Marissa Alexander pressured Corey into offering a plea deal that included no prison time in late 2014.

Ten years earlier, Corey similarly prosecuted Shana Barnes, a Black woman who shot her abusive husband after trying to retreat. With Corey prosecuting her, Barnes was convicted of murder in 2002 and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Like Alexander, Barnes' conviction was overturned, once by a District Court of Appeals judge and again by the Florida Supreme Court. While Barnes eventually accepted a plea deal that included significantly reduced prison time, the case showed Corey's willingness to obsessively prosecute African American women under spurious charges.

Angela Corey Out Now!

Activist organizations locally and around the country have called on Angela Corey's removal from office. In the spring of 2014, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition launched a citywide campaign united around the demand, “Angela Corey Out NOW.”

Similarly, the National Organization for Women released a statement in March 2014 calling for Corey's resignation. The statement pointed out, “Instead of using her prosecutorial discretion in a responsible manner, Corey is misusing her office in a way that endangers the lives of domestic violence survivors. That she would try to mislead the public about her role in the criminal justice system of Florida only adds to the outrageousness of her conduct.”

So far, Corey's only challenger is former assistant state attorney Wesley White, who used to work directly under Corey. White filed to run for the Republican nomination for State Attorney before Corey announced her bid for a third term. White's campaign has not yet criticized Corey's racist attacks on African American youth.

Notes:

1. Topher Sanders, The Florida Times Union, “Angela Corey's office threatens Jacksonville area juveniles with adult charges, Matt Shirk and private attorneys say,” February 1, 2014, http://bit.ly/MMZcfZ

 2. Ibid.

3. Human Rights Watch, “Branded for Life: Florida's Persecution of Children as Adults under its 'Direct File' Statute,” April 2014, http://bit.ly/1hDLLqT

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