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Highs and lows this week across Tampa Bay and Florida | Editorial
Items include exoneration for the Groveland 4 and a legal ‘fiction’ about the whereabouts of placing a sports bet.
Carol Greenlee Crawley, second from left, daughter of Charles Greenlee, reacts after Circuit Court Judge Heidi Davis dismissed all charges against Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, known as the Groveland Four, during a proceeding at the Lake County Courthouse Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Tavares.
Carol Greenlee Crawley, second from left, daughter of Charles Greenlee, reacts after Circuit Court Judge Heidi Davis dismissed all charges against Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, known as the Groveland Four, during a proceeding at the Lake County Courthouse Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Tavares. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | Orlando Sentinel ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 27, 2021

Exoneration in Groveland. A judge this week exonerated four African-American men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman seven decades ago in central Florida, bringing some account to one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of the Jim Crow era. At the request of the local prosecutor, an administrative judge dismissed the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, who were fatally shot by law enforcement, and set aside the convictions and sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin. The men, who ranged from 16 to 26 at the time, were accused of raping a woman in the town of Groveland in 1949. In the same Lake County courthouse where the original trials were held, the Republican state attorney, Bill Gladson, said: “We followed the evidence to see where it led us and it led us to this moment.” The Florida Legislature in 2017 formally apologized to the men’s families, and Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet granted posthumous pardons more than two years ago. This was a long overdue awakening, but at least the record now stands alongside the tragedy.

What pandemic? It didn’t take long for Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo to further weaken the state’s fight against COVID-19. Just hours after his boss, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed a new law last week restricting a company’s ability to mandate vaccines, Ladapo signed an emergency rule listing a number of exemptions an employee can use to refusing getting the jab. The loopholes are so ridiculous, and in some cases amount to anti-science, that it’s incredible even a political appointee would sign off on this dodge. It’s another sop to anti-vaxxers at the expense of public health, and another stain in this pandemic on the surgeon general’s office.

USF’s marine project. The University of South Florida is showing statewide and regional leadership by looking to boost St. Petersburg’s stature as a marine science hub. The university plans to request $30 million during the legislative session that begins in January and $30 million in 2023 to launch an $80 million facility on its St. Petersburg campus dubbed the Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences. The remaining $20 million would come from community donors. The initiative is the first step in realizing a plan presented to legislators last year that would transform the campus into academic clusters centered around marine sciences. St. Petersburg already houses several key science hubs, and USF’s College of Marine Science is a global name brand and a leader on major environmental issues. Interim USF president Rhea Law should be applauded for the visibility she is bringing to the St. Petersburg campus and to the importance, more generally, of ecological issues to Florida. The area’s legislative delegation should recognize the project’s potential and its value to Florida amid a warming climate.

Gambling deal scuttled. A federal district court judge this week invalidated Florida’s new gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe, calling it a monopoly on sports betting that violates federal Indian gaming law. The ruling by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich puts a halt to the sports betting launched by the Seminole Tribe on Nov. 1. The ruling also blocks the tribe’s Hard Rock casinos in Broward and Hillsborough counties from becoming full Las Vegas-style casinos. In short, the judge found that the 30-year agreement signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, and approved by the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Department of the Interior, was too cute by half. Federal law requires such gambling to occur on tribal land; Florida claimed the deal was proper because bets were routed through servers on tribal property, which the judge called legal “fiction.” Friedrich ordered the state to reinstate its prior agreement with the Tribe, craft a new one or to hold a statewide referendum. “This ruling says what should’ve been obvious to everyone from the beginning — that Florida’s Constitution gives only Florida voters, not politicians in Tallahassee and Washington, the power to expand gambling in our state,’’ said John Sowinski, executive director of No Casinos.

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And finally, ka-BLAM! NASA launched a spacecraft Tuesday on a mission to smash into an asteroid with the goal of examining whether it would be possible to bump a speeding space rock from threatening Earth. If all goes well, the DART spacecraft will slam head-on into Dimorphos, an asteroid 525 feet across, in September 2022. The technique could prove useful for altering the course of an asteroid, experts said, as even a small nudge would cause a big change in an asteroid’s position. DART lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, but we’re appropriating parental pride here, given the space program’s huge footprint and economic impact in Florida. We all benefit from, and should enjoy the wonder of, NASA’s can-do mentality.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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