On Sunday, March 13, Donald Trump held a massive rally at Boca Raton's Sunset Cove Amphitheater. The rally itself was peaceful and largely uneventful, but a video posted to Facebook that evening seemed to show that Trump's campaign had purposely denied admission to black activists and that police were complicit in the discrimination. The clip showed a deputy from the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, Ken Sluth, blocking black members of Broward's Black Lives Matter Alliance from entering the rally, despite the fact that the activists had tickets to the event. He admitted a white activist with a ticket, though.
Yesterday, two civil rights groups — including the National Lawyer's Guild, the nation's first racially integrated bar association — condemned the sheriff's office for "selectively suppress[ing] the speech of people of color."
"Black youth who had tickets for the event were singled out in line for denial of admission by officers," the guild said in a letter addressed to Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and county Mayor Mary Lou Berger. "Conversely, a white individual was allowed to pass and enter the security line at the same moment without incident — even after stating to the officer that his purpose was to protest the event." The guild wrote the letter in tandem with Miami's Community Justice Project, a legal aid group that represents "low-income communities of color."
In the video, Sluth told the man filming, local (white) activist Peter Da More, "The campaign has told us they don't want them on the property,"
"Who is them?" asked members of the group, which included Dream Defenders' Jasmen Rogers and Black Lives Matter Broward's Jesse Cosme.
Seconds later, Da More tells the officer that he has a ticket and would like enter to protest. The cop then cordially lets Da More inside.
Cosme later told New Times that his group had been standing in the parking lot, handing out popsicles with the words "Love Trumps Hate" written on them, when police starting showing up and asking what they were up to.
He said what happened to his group was "indicative of what happened to people of color throughout the night. Some people of color didn’t get in, and some people who weren’t even 'of color' didn’t get in either." Sheriff's office spokeswoman Teri Barbera told New Times the officers had been hired by the Trump campaign and were just following the campaign's orders.
The events were also indicative of a larger, more frightening trend threaded through Trump's rallies this year: racial animosity and violence. Black protesters have been choked, threatened, and spat on at Trump events. The Chicago Tribune has said the moments have "virtually no precedent in modern presidential politics," and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has said Trump is "literally inciting violence" at his rallies. Trump has blamed the violence on the protesters themselves.
Today, the National Lawyer's Guild bit into Bradshaw's office for bending to Trump's will.
"In the guidelines for rental of the space, the County explicitly retains the 'the exclusive right to permit or deny an individual or organization to use the facility,'" the letter reads. "Unfortunately, PBSO deputies chose to use racial profiling in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a primary test for denial of admission to the event." The letter, written by the guild's South Florida president, Dante Trevisani (and the Community Justice Project's Alana Greer), criticized police for pushing the activists to a "free speech zone" at least 400 feet from the rally's main entrance.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association, which racially segregated its members at the time. It was, and still is, composed almost entirely of left-leaning lawyers. According to its mission statement, the group exists to protect civil rights and the "rights of workers" and to use the law "as an instrument for the protection of the people."
The guild also said that it had received a separate complaint from a "young black man" unaffiliated with the protest. Police, the guild says, erroneously labeled him a protester and blocked him from entering the event.
"Several other unaffiliated attendees, including a father and young son, were held behind a police line after briefly observing the protest, while dozens of white attendees were allowed to linger and walk through the police line without incident," the letter says. "Some members of the media were also initially barred from leaving the area to return to the main event after interviewing protesters." The letter also accused the sheriff's office of deploying riot police against protesters.
It goes on:
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Racial discrimination and the suppression of political speech should never be taken lightly. We cannot condone the above actions by PBSO deputies, state actors who selectively suppressed the speech of people of color at an event where the candidate is known to preach hate against Muslim, immigrant, and other oppressed communities. The PBSO deputies’ actions are an unconscionable violation of both the First and Fourteenth Amendment. While Mr. Trump may have his own First Amendment rights to express this hateful rhetoric, it does not justify the Sheriff’s Department’s proactive steps to bar young people of color from the event.
Given these events, we are demanding clear directive to all County law enforcement personnel that state actors must not be used to enforce racially discriminatory practices by Trump’s campaign.
As of presstime, the sheriff's office had not responded to New Times' request for comment.
Here's the letter in full: