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Rev. Jackson: Florida is the scene of the crime

He and other black leaders say they will target Republicans in the 2002 elections.

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson is opening an office in Tallahassee. Black state lawmakers are calling Florida the "new Selma." And the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is planning to take testimony from Secretary of State Katherine Harris next month.

Florida's election problems have sharpened the civil rights movement, and African-American leaders say they plan to organize, demonstrate and target Republicans in 2002.

"Florida is the scene of the crime," Jackson said. "It's what Birmingham and Selma was. This is where the state legislators seek to overthrow the people's election. This is where Jeb Bush and Katherine (Harris) organized the state to target African-Americans."

Jackson -- who came to Tallahassee on Tuesday to speak at a Capitol rally organized by labor unions -- said he plans to open a Rainbow Push Coalition Bureau in Tallahassee, which would be the group's eighth U.S. bureau. He has asked Tony Hill, a former Jacksonville state representative, to head the bureau. Hill said Tuesday he hasn't decided whether to accept the offer.

Hill became one of Florida's most prominent civil rights leaders this year after he and state Sen. Kendrick Meek of Miami held an overnight sit-in at Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan's office to protest Gov. Jeb Bush's overhaul of state affirmative action policies.

Hill, a longshoreman who served in the Legislature from 1992 until he was forced out by the state's term limits law this year, said Florida's African-American community "is a little bit too disconnected," and the Rainbow Push Coalition bureau will try to build stronger ties.

"The people in Pensacola can't feel the pain in Miami," Hill said. "We're mad as hell in the African-American community. We're not going to be ruled. We'll be governed."

Hill said the group will focus on diverse issues: racial profiling, predatory lending, quality education, worker's rights and political action.

"Rev. Jackson wants to create a leadership team around the country, sort of like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Hill said.

Said Meek: "I think in the aftermath of thousands of voters being disenfranchised in Florida on national and international television, I think it shows we need some help in Florida."

"This time, about 80 percent of the voters who were disenfranchised were African-Americans," Jackson charged. "If you forget to vote, you feel guilty. If you vote, and your vote is taken away, you feel angry. We need, at some point, to convene a statewide meeting and look forward to 2002. It's not just about Gov. (Jeb) Bush. It's about the entire state Legislature."

Tuesday's rally, which drew several hundred people, is the fifth civil rights demonstration at the Capitol since Jeb Bush took office two years ago.

The Civil Rights Commission -- made up of President Clinton's appointees -- announced Tuesday it is launching a formal investigation in Florida. The commission plans to hold its first hearings in Tallahassee on Jan. 11 and 12, taking testimony from Harris and other officials and issuing subpoenaes for documents. It will announce its findings in a report.

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