Palm Beach County Leaders Urge Police To Protect Black Voters At the Polls
Local leaders in Palm Beach County said they’ve received a number of phone calls and questions regarding next month's 2020 general election — and whether or not it will be safe to vote in Black communities.
Richard Ryles is an attorney and president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Palm Beach County.
Ryles said statements by President Trump at last month's debate between Trump, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, have older Black constituents in Palm Beach County wondering if the president is giving license to disenfranchise the Black community.
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Ryles, a former West Palm Beach commissioner, said since voter suppression and intimidation has historically been an issue in the United States, he believes the president’s statements have given the community a pause, that “perhaps an undercurrent for a fifth column is in existence.”
“We only need look most recently at Kenosha, at the president's statement during the debate to tell the Proud Boys to ‘stand by’ [and] at the storming of the governor's mansion or the planned storming of the governor's mansion in Michigan,” Ryles said at a press conference at the The Ryles Firm in West Palm Beach.
The "fifth column" Ryles mentioned is a reference to the fallout from the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. At a local protest following the shooting, a 17-year-old white gunman shot and killed two people and was later charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Ryles mentioned Trump’s refusal to condemn members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group linked with white supremacists. Ryles also made a subtle reference to the Wolverine Watchmen, a paramilitary group who have been linked to a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Ryles said these national stories about gun-toting individuals at protests across the country and violent groups disguised as militias are reverberating locally. He spoke to West Palm Beach Police Chief Frank Adderley, and Delray Beach Police Chief Javaro Sims, to provide assurances to the Black community that polling places will be safe.
"Both of them have assured me that plans are in the works to address any attempts at voter intimidation," Ryles said.
Ryles was joined by Chuck Ridley of UNIFY, a voter advocacy group, former Riviera Beach Councilman Terrance Davis, Imani Williams Esq., activist Rae Whitley, and former Riviera Beach Police Chief Clarence Williams, who is working on a document to set forth the working terms between the African-American community and law enforcement.
Each leader urged young and older Black residents to participate in early voting. Ryles said there were historical reference points to justify voter intimidation fears.
“Our history tells us that, beginning with the Hayes Tilden compromise, that the African-American vote was disenfranchised for nearly 100 years until the 1960s as a result of a political grand bargain to our detriment,” Ryles said
Ryles harkened back to the harsh political realities of the 1960s and urged older Black voters to vote early to quell their concerns.
“I'm old enough to remember when these conversations were held almost weekly. I'm a '60s child, so I remember the 1960s. And so, yes, it is sad that in 2020 that we are still having the same conversations that we had,” Ryles said. “That John Lewis had. That the civil rights icons had in order to just vote.”