Slavery still exists in Florida
May 20, 2012, marks a little-known date in Florida's history — the 147th anniversary of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, in which President Abraham Lincoln declared that slaves across 10 states, including Florida, were free men and women. Many of us think that the saga of slavery in Florida ended then. But we'd be wrong.
During a recent fact-finding trip to the center of Florida tomato production fields, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said, "The norm is disaster and the extreme is slavery."
Yes, slavery does still exist in Florida, and over the past decade the U.S. Department of Justice has successfully prosecuted seven farm-labor servitude cases here. Many of today's farmworkers in Florida still do not have basic civil and human rights, are exposed to pesticides and other dangerous working conditions and face exploitation, brutality, rape and threats.
We who live and shop in Florida can no longer turn a blind eye to what is going on. There is a solution to the problem of modern-day slavery. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has achieved wage agreements with fast-food corporations that buy tomatoes and in 2010 carved out an agreement with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. Farmworkers are already seeing larger paychecks.
But the supermarket industry has been slow to adopt the higher standards for farmworkers. Publix, in particular, refuses to even sit down and talk with CIW leaders.
It's time to end modern-day slavery, nearly 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and an even longer exploitation of agricultural workers in our state. It's time for Publix, Florida's largest grocer, to sit down with the workers from CIW and become a leader in the quest for fairness and justice in our region. That's the right and moral thing to do.
The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, pastor, First United Church of Tampa; president, World Council of Churches
Shelter is focus of budget battle | May 16
Restore original purpose
When the sheriff first proposed Safe Harbor, its intent was to be used as a diversion for individuals charged with minor crimes awaiting trial, or just released from prison and on probation. It was supposed to be a cost-effective approach to keep these types of people from continuing to commit crimes and avoid the expense of putting them behind bars. It's close to the court, supervised by the sheriff, and has services just across the street to help these type of people re-enter society on a positive path.
Then the city of St. Petersburg got involved and wanted to send its homeless population there. This is a classic example of political mission creep where a good idea gets ruined by everyone putting their finger in the pie. There is a big difference between the type of people the shelter was supposed to help and the traditional homeless that are now finding their way there. Many homeless have no intention of bettering their situation as long as they are getting a free meal.
Safe Harbor has to focus on its original intent. Mixing the criminals with the traditional homeless has been detrimental to both efforts.
Ed Mills, Clearwater
Real auto industry savior | May 16, letter
Obama saved carmakers
The reader indicates that it was George W. Bush and he alone who authorized federal loans to the auto industry during the economic crash of 2008-2009. This could not be further from the facts.
In December 2008, Bush did authorize federal loans in the amount of $17.4 billion to the auto industry, basically by executive order, as Congress would not go along with the proposed loan. However, after being sworn in as president, Barack Obama authorized over $34 billion in loan guarantees by June 2009. It was this 2009 infusion of funds by the Obama administration that ultimately funded the bridge loans that eased the auto industry out of bankruptcy and preserved the existence of the U.S. auto industry.
John Henninger, Clearwater
This show doesn't pass muster May 17, review
'Blues' was enjoyable
I beg to differ with Times performing arts critic John Fleming's opinion on Biloxi Blues. I went with a group of 13 friends to see the production. This was my first time at the new Channelside home of Stageworks, though I've seen many prior Stageworks productions at the Straz. There was nothing lacking here. Film of the World War II era set the scene. The play was funny, thought provoking and well done. Why did the actors have to be members of Actors' Equity?
Sometimes we just need to sit back in our seats and enjoy, rather than look for something to criticize.
Anita Clifford, Lithia
Traveling oak tree | May 16
Mighty lovely specimen
I am writing in praise of the article about the transfer of the large specimen oak tree at University of Tampa. Way too often, trees are pushed over for development projects all over our state and it's called "progress." This is criminal, as far as I'm concerned.
Trees are among my favorite critters. They don't lie, cheat, steal or hurt others. They are critical to our survival. Anyone who doesn't like trees, move to Arizona. Been there, hated it. Came back to tree country.
Nickie McNichols, Clearwater
RNC protest rules pass | May 18
More reason to protest
If there are designated "free speech" zones at the Republican National Convention, then there are areas where free speech is not allowed. And prohibiting free speech is about as un-American as it gets.
Certainly there is a need to provide access to convention venues for delegates and media. But after that, it should be a priority to maximize the area where First Amendment rights are protected, which means minimizing "Event Zones."
Neither party has served the American people well, but Republicans have shown that they will not act in the best interests of the majority of citizens. An ordinance that restricts the voice of the people gives them another reason to protest. This ordinance may do just that.
Chip Thomas, Tampa