Alan Grayson made an appearance at a Black Lives Matter rally in Ybor City’s Centennial Park on Saturday afternoon before approximately 75 people.
With plenty of law enforcement standing sentry, the Orlando congressman and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate addressed the multiracial crowd by citing the names of a few of the black men who have been killed by law enforcement officers recently, such as Alton Sterling and Philander Castile.
“These are young people who gave their lives, for no good reason. And now it’s for us the living, the ones still here to make sure that they did not die in vain,” he said.
He also mentioned Andrew Joseph III, the 14-year-old black youth who was ejected from the Florida State Fair by Hillsborough County Sheriff Deputies on Student Day in 2014 and died trying to cross Interstate 4.
“The police stole 50 years of his life,” Grayson said. “And stole him from his loving parents, and ended his life prematurely.”
Last fall, Grayson met with Andrew Joseph Jr. and his wife Deanna, the parents of Andrew Joseph III, in Tampa last September, and said he would contact Attorney General Loretta Lynch and call on the federal government to investigate the case, claiming that he died because of the negligence of the Sheriffs Department. In February, the Department of Justice informed him that the actions of the department “were not sufficient” to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation.” Earlier this year, the parents of Joseph filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida State Fair Authority and the Hillsborough County School District.
Grayson said at the rally that he will introduce legislation that will provide federal funds only to cities that have independent police civilian review boards. Most cities have such a board, but there has been criticism that many of them are ineffective and don’t have enough power to penalize wrongdoing by law officers.
“It’s always possible that these boards might be captured,” Grayson admitted, saying that’s exactly what has happened with the Florida Ethics Commission, which he called “a creature” of Governor Rick Scott. “You have to never let up,” he said. “The fact is, there’s little chance for justice when the people who are perhaps guilty of the crimes or perhaps judging them.”
While speaking with reporters after his brief set of comments, Grayson was confronted by two people who had an issue with him.
One was a citizen who attended the Hillsborough County Black Democratic Caucus meeting of political candidates at the Beulah Baptist Institutional Church in Tampa earlier in the day. The organizer of the event, Robin Lockett, admonished Grayson for failing to appear, saying that she had rearranged the schedule of his appearance, only to be called late on Friday night that he would not be attending.
“What happened was I got in at one o’clock in the morning last night after a long delayed flight and I got into Orlando, and it was physically impossible to be there,” he said.
Then Pam Keith, another Democrat running in the U.S. Senate contest, confronted Grayson about his remarks at the BLM protest, before ultimately claiming that he was simply grandstanding.
“I think that people in the community were really concerned about getting beyond about pointing about what’s wrong,” Keith said directly to Grayson. “Simply stating the names of people who have been killed is not enough anymore. We’ve got to figure out how to prevent these shootings in the first place.” As she began reciting her potential solutions to the crisis, Grayson and his aides wandered away, as she then began addressing reporters.
“Using an opportunity to grandstand? We’ve seen that over and over again,” she said while he was out of earshot. Keith then segued into criticizing Grayson for being “complicit” in ensuring that the public wasn’t aware of her candidacy. “He’ll tell you how Patrick Murphy won’t debate him, but will he tell you that he won’t debate me?” she said (However, WMFE public radio news director Catherine Welch says that Keith will debate Grayson in a radio debate on August 3).
Murphy has been reluctant to engage in debates set up by organizers from several Florida public radio stations and Bay News 9 in Tampa Bay and News 13 in Orlando. When asked if he was getting frustrated with Murphy’s apparent reluctance to debate, Grayson simply insulted his chief opponent in the contest.
“He’s become such a liar and a fool and a clown, that the Democratic Party has ordered him to keep his mouth shut,” he replied.