Florence Snyder – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

Rape kits delayed is justice denied

The Senate Subcommittee on Justice Appropriations is well-pleased to be “on track” in clearing the backlog of unprocessed sexual assault kits. Before you break out the celebratory cupcakes, consider that “the track” requires nothing more than processing about 25 percent of the backlog in a year.

We don’t know how many rapists are eyeing their next victim, as opposed to sitting in jail, by reason of the rape kit backlog. But we do know that every kit represents a medical exam that goes on for up to six hours and can be almost as traumatic for victims as the crime itself.

Here are some highlights: You undress on a large paper sheet, the better to capture any hair or fiber evidence that falls from your body or clothing. You’re photographed naked from head to toe. You’re poked, probed and swabbed in your mouth, your anus and your genitals.  On what is quite possibly the worst day of your life, you are trying to be a good citizen, and praying that the perp doesn’t get another crack at you or anyone else again, ever.

You never get called to testify because your kit is sitting on a shelf somewhere for months, or years, and when your government finally decides to get things “on track,” the track is three years long.

Florida is by no means the only state that insults crime victims and puts public safety at risk by failing to fund a crime lab that can keep up with the workload. Actor Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: SVU founded a nonprofit and a few Twitter feeds aimed at comforting the victims of “sexually based offenses” and afflicting public officials who talk tough on crime, but won’t pick up the tab for the basic tools of the crime-fighting trade. The victims need all the comfort they can get. The public officials are, so far, impervious to embarrassment.

Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell, part 3

How many adults does it take to get a 4-year-old girl from day care to her “destination?”

Quite a few for a 4-year-old in the “care” of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and its “community partners” at Eckerd Kids and Camelot Community Care.

We don’t know the child’s name because #PrivacyLaws. But her face is on RaSheeda Yates’ smartphone, as well as the internet, thanks to the underpaid, undertrained, and now unemployed Camelot driver who brought the child to Yates’ house Monday night at 7:45.

That’s a pretty long day for a little kid, and perhaps it explains why she was hungry, and scampered through the front door the moment it was opened by Yates’ 14-year-old daughter, although more sinister interpretations are possible.

Yates called the police, and eight officers came to her aid. Everyone was baffled that there was no missing child report.

Yates turned to the Church of Facebook and posted the child’s picture. Faster than you can say “6 degrees of separation,” the child’s biological mother saw the picture.

Four hours and two meals after the little girl walked through Yates’ front door, the foster parent, dressed in nightclothes, showed up. For some reason, the child did not want to leave. For obvious reasons, Yates did not want to “send her back to a place where people didn’t know she was missing.”

Predictably, DCF is “absolutely outraged.”

Naturally, Eckerd “urged” Camelot to “institute new procedures.”

Undoubtedly, Facebook is happy that Florida is talking tonight about something other than streaming suicide.


Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell, part 2

Naika Venant kept a journal and hoped one day to write a memoir. Instead, her life story will be told by the Miami Herald.

Eight of the paper’s most experienced reporters collaborated Tuesday to piece together the last hours of the last chapter of the 14-year-old foster child’s life.  But it was old news to the thousand people who watched in real time on Facebook as Naika hung herself by the neck until dead.

An all-star cast of usual suspects showed up to say all the usual things.

Department of Children & Families (DCF) Secretary Mike Carroll is “horrified and devastated.”  There will, of course, be a multidisciplinary investigation.  He’s committed to “helping the family heal.”

Carroll can take that up with the birth mother’s lawyer, who kicked off his client’s healing process with a shock and awe news conference.

Soon to be heard from is the dependency court judge who ordered that Naika be shielded from social media and provided with intensive counseling.  Sure to come is a Herald lawsuit to gain access to the facts of Naika’s life, which included being raped in foster care. That was half a lifetime ago, when she was 7 years old.

Yesterday, House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo wondered aloud: ” … how much appetite do we have to be disciplined financially? We’ve been led by Republicans for the last 20 years, and we spend like Democrats.”

Indeed. High on the list of stupid money Florida spends is the millions it takes to support its web of confidentiality laws written decades before parents decided it was OK for 14-year-olds to sleep with their smartphones. There’s a bipartisan consensus that it’s a good use of money to “protect the privacy” of children like Naika, as if their families, teachers, neighbors, grocery store clerks, and Facebook friends don’t know who they are, and why they’re “in care.”

Today and every day, there are Naikas and Nubias acting out, crying out, waiving their privacy “rights” and begging for help. There are professionals ready, willing and capable of providing meaningful help, court-ordered or otherwise.

What we lack is the willingness to take money out of the Department of Hollow Apologies and Reshuffling Deck Chairs and put it into the hands of professionals who can, for example, keep 7-year-olds away from rapists.

When Naika’s story is finally and fully told, we will see, yet again, that the only thing Florida’s privacy laws protect is a fiscally stupid and morally bankrupt status quo.


The room where it happens just a phone call away

For voters who want to piss their politics into the wind, there’s Facebook. For voters who want to change the hearts, minds, and votes of elected officials, the telephone is the easiest, most effective way to go.

Every officeholder from Carrabelle to Congress employs human beings whose primary job is to lend a respectful ear to Floridians who want to be heard. Often, these staffers are civic-minded idealists who encourage their bosses to follow their better angels. They’re easy to talk to and very effective at delivering the vox populi to the corner office.

The dumbest politician knows that for every person who bothers to pick up the phone and speak his or her peace, there’s family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers with the same view, and they’re all likely to remember in November.

Marco Rubio is not Florida’s dumbest politician, and he might have voted his convictions, rather than those of his puppetmasters, if more Floridians had called his office with a polite, but firm, “Man up, Marco, and stick to your guns on Rex Tillerson.”

It’s been a long time since we’ve taught civics in our schools, so we can’t blame citizens whose political muscles have atrophied. Folks have been lulled into thinking that hitting a “like” button, forwarding an email, or being one of a thousand people to sign a letter forged in a cookie cutter factory in Consultantville, Ohio is a good use of time. They’ve been intimidated into believing they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or articulate enough to take their own messages, in their own words, to the room where it happens.

Being impossible to ignore is easier than you think, and calling is cheaper than it’s ever been. If there’s a Trump nominee you want confirmed, or kicked to the curb, take a cue from Ma Bell and reach out and touch your congressional delegation.

Florida’s children live and die at the crowded corner of Dickens & Orwell

Finland lacks a “culture of apology,” but sucked it up anyway and joined the growing number of western countries owning up to the suffering of generations of children whose lives went from bad to worse in state care.

You can cross your fingers and pray, but you’re probably never going to see Florida apologize to Victor Docter and the children who preceded him in state-sanctioned torture chambers, and to all who have followed in the years since he was tortured, and his twin sister Nubia murdered, under the “care” of foster parents recruited and trained by the state, and later paid by the state to adopt them.

Apologies are not Florida’s style. Our lumbering, crumbling social services “system” has been living at the intersection of Dickens and Orwell for as long as any Floridian alive can remember, and there are no meaningful incentives to change.

We have all gotten comfortably numb to the endless cycle of Government Reports followed by Commitments to Improve. It began again this week with the latest federal “Children and Family Services Review” filled with more food for nightmares about how Florida may or may not be keeping children safe in their “placements,” and is most assuredly not staffed and funded to provide them with adequate counseling and care.

As always, a “children’s advocate” is standing by with a hearty “This is a wake-up call …”  Flacks whip out their save-strings and fire off “we take this very seriously” emails to reporters and “stakeholders.”

It’s been nearly six years since the Valentine’s Day when Nubia’s decomposing body was found, wrapped in a garbage bag in the back of her adoptive father’s flatbed truck.  As usual, when the headlines are sufficiently shocking, a Blue Ribbon Panel was convened to quiet the media mob and appease the legislature. Also, as usual, the underpaid, overworked people who were “pressured” to get the twins off the state’s books and into a “forever family” are long gone to who -knows- where.

The “leadership” that pressured low-level caseworkers to sign off on homes where the Humane Society would not place a rescue cat is gone, too. They have risen to higher and better-paying levels of incompetence, where they continue to take things very seriously.


Sobering news surfaces about security at Fort Lauderdale Airport

Mike Sallah, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Miami Herald Brain Drain, may be working for Gannett in Washington, but he’s still looking out for the folks in Florida.

Sallah and Naples Daily News staffer Kristyn Wellesley teamed up to add some important context to our understanding of airport security following the mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale that left five dead and thousands traumatized. Sallah and Wellesley looked at staffing levels and found that as passenger traffic grew by the millions, sworn deputies, traffic enforcement officers, and community service aides were cut.

There were no armed deputies in the terminal when Iraq War veteran Esteban (“My Pleas for Mental Health Treatment Fell on Deaf Ears”) Santiago opened fire. In the past decade, the number of deputies assigned to the airport has dropped from 150 to 116. Crisis-trained deputies have been repurposed to keeping the cars moving in the passenger drop-off lane, dealing with drunks, and reuniting children with their lost stuffed animals.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel insists that airport was “properly policed” and the “active shooter” response was “timely.” That’s a bold — indeed, bizarre — statement from a guy who admitted to Gannett’s reporters he “had not seen the staffing data and was unaware that positions at the airport had been reduced over the years, including the loss of 14 jobs during his tenure.”

“If we need more deputies, I will ask for them,” Israel promised. But first, there will be a monthslong Study to Make Sure This Never Happens Again. That will give the traveling public time to think about how much we’re willing to pay for peace of mind in the baggage claim area.


Corporate media leaves the Republic in the lurch

Between the lingering ethical stench of Brian Williams and the high hysteria quotient of the rest of the “talent” at NBC, it’s easy to forget that the network still has some working journalists on the payroll, producing some remarkable work.

Eight of them joined forces to create this thoughtful piece of multimedia reporting that goes a long way toward explaining why, on this Inauguration Day, Democrats are “left in the lurch.”

You need to turn off all your devices — especially the TV — to slog through the dense mix of history, statistics, demographics, and trends identified and analyzed. Like all real journalism, this project asks far more of its audience than the consultants, commentators, contributors, and Friends of the Show that Corporate Broadcast Media fawns over on Inauguration Day, and every day.

American broadcast news has devolved to almost nothing but “political analysis” delivered by men and women who can emote for the camera while babbling a fluent stream of Word Salad. The Political-Media Codependent Complex is a death spiral for democracy, but a cash cow for corporate media, and for those who have mastered the art of “messaging” their way into The Conversation. The men and women who dig for facts and keep their “quite frank” opinions to themselves are, like Democrats, left in the lurch.

The election of President Are You Not Entertained? has not made a dent in the “journalism” that spends too much time telling people what to think and too little time giving them the facts they need to think for themselves. Real reporters get a vastly smaller portion of airtime than they used to.  But they’re still around, even at NBC, and that’s cause for hope that the People on TV will one day educate themselves. Or stop talking.


Commissioners get two fat salaries; public gets half their time, all the bill

In Leon County, the median household income is $47,000, and people who are lucky enough to have a full-time job are generally expected to work that job, you know, full-time.

At $75,829, plus benefits, Leon County Commissioners’ compensation is well above what most of their constituents earn, but it’s less than what Commissioners Nick Maddox and Jimbo Jackson collect at their other full-time job.

Maddox was just hired to head the Foundation for Leon County Schools at a salary of $78,000. Jackson makes $90,875 as principal of Ft. Braden School.

Maddox modestly assured the Tallahassee Democrat that he’s going to do a “great” job in both of his positions and if Jackson’s staff at Ft. Braden has any complaints about picking up their principal’s slack, it’s a safe bet they won’t be griping to reporters.

Maddox and Jackson did not invent the fiction that public officials can serve two masters.  And the public didn’t especially mind in times and places when a public official’s salary was little more than gas money.  In modern times, Maddox and Jackson are just a tiny tip of an iceberg of public officials who serve two, three, four and more masters at great cost to taxpayers. We’ve all gotten used to it, but that does not make it right.


We missed you, Sasha, but you were in the right place

Sasha Obama wasn’t in Chicago to see her dad’s farewell address, and the internet went crazy at the deprivation of its Right to Know how she reacted to the president’s touching tribute to his wife and children.

Turns out the 15-year-old Second Daughter was back in Washington, studying and getting a good night’s sleep ahead of an exam the next morning.

The tuition at Sasha’s school, Sidwell Friends, is $39K per child, per year. That includes a hot lunch and some actual rules. Among them: “Students must adhere to the published examination schedule; absence for travel is not an adequate reason to reschedule an examination.”

Sidwell is a pricy but refreshing throwback to a time when parents might take the kids out of school if Aunt Mabel died, but not if Aunt Mabel wanted to meet up at Disney.

In Florida, the average starting salary for teachers is $35K. That includes insufficient classroom supplies and all the hot guff they can eat from parents who are nowhere near as willing as Sidwell moms and dads to follow rules. The definition of “parental involvement” has expanded to confer upon parents the right to decide when Jack and Jill have something more important to do than show up for class, turn in their homework, or take a test.  Kids learn that teachers can be disrespected. Teachers learn that they might be happier in another line of work.

Rules have to be followed all the time, by everybody, or they aren’t rules.  That’s something all schoolchildren have the right to learn, even if their parents aren’t presidents.

Palm Beach County veggie-pocalyse requires #FreshThinkingFromFlorida

In Palm Beach County, millions of pounds of vegetables are unpicked, plowed under, and rotting in the fields not far away from large populations of undernourished children.

The weather this growing season was everything it needed to be for a bountiful harvest Florida’s growers can be proud of. But the “agricultural economics” that forced growers to abandon their crops are an embarrassment to a state that claims to be creative and compassionate.

The Palm Beach Post’s Susan Salisbury explains: “Perfect weather has resulted in a bountiful crop that’s caused a glut on the market and low prices. Demand is down. Winter storms have kept people out of grocery stores and restaurants along the nation’s East Coast where much of Florida’s produce would normally be sold.

“Meanwhile, Mexico has become a year-round producer of cheap tomatoes and also experienced ideal growing conditions and huge crops as have Arizona and California. Florida’s agricultural industry is wondering why the much-touted buy-local movement isn’t helping more.”

You can’t blame growers for cutting their losses when the market tanks. They donate as much as they can to food banks, and heaven knows the food banks need all the donations they can get. The holiday season, with its surge of volunteers bearing hams and turkeys, comes to an end, while lines outside the food banks remain endless.

But it takes more than a thousand points of light to do the picking, washing, packing and driving to get healthy Florida produce into the stomachs of people who survive on heavily subsidized diets of sugar and grease. So, the growers give the crops they have lovingly tended a kill shot of herbicide and plow ’em under.

Food banks are hoping to expand their capacity to safely store produce and bring it directly to people who need it. But like growers, they have very little manpower and no margin for error.

A state that markets itself as America’s best place to do business needs an “agricultural economics” that provides a living to farmers and healthy meals to hungry children. This is an excellent opportunity for Florida’s Innovators, Job Creators, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders With a Sense of Statewide Community to do some meaningful marketing by putting their heads together and serving up a plate of Creativity Primavera.

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