LEAP and Open Society Justice Initiative: Florida Classroom Censorship Law (“Stop W.O.K.E.” Act) Impairs Training for Law Enforcement

New York, June 27, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In a court filing, the U.S.-based nonprofit Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), joined by experts and a coalition of policing and criminal justice organizations, have expressed support for a lawsuit opposing the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act (HB7), a law that would severely restrict Florida educators and students from discussing race and gender in higher education classrooms. They argue that HB7 would prevent Florida law enforcement agencies from preparing officers for the realities of working with and serving diverse communities, since state-mandated diversity training, a part of basic recruit training, is in most cases administered in community colleges, junior colleges, or vocational or technical institutions.

“The State of Florida has mandated for more than 30 years that new recruits and veteran officers alike undergo training on interpersonal skills relating to diverse populations,” said Diane Goldstein, executive director of LEAP and retired police lieutenant. "This has led to enhanced recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce that better reflects the communities served; fewer officer-involved shootings; and an overall improved ability to build, maintain, and deepen the trust of diverse communities essential to the maintenance of law, order, and officer safety. The 'Stop W.O.K.E.' Act will impede that progress and make it harder for law enforcement officers to do their jobs.”

The groups have voiced their concerns in an amicus curiae brief [PDF] submitted on June 23, 2023, to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considering a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Ballard Spahr on behalf of a group of Florida educators and students in higher education. Groups joining the filing include LEAP, Fair and Just Prosecution, the National Coalition Building Institute, Strategies for Justice, BWMP LLC, The Black Police Experience, and five highly regarded policing experts. Lawyers for, and working with, the Open Society Justice Initiative acted as counsel for the coalition before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

A preliminary injunction against the enforcement of HB7 was issued on November 17, 2022, by a federal district judge in Florida, who called the law “positively dystopian”. On March 16, 2023, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals left the injunction in place, blocking the law from being enforced until it issues a decision.

“We urge the Court of Appeals to affirm the preliminary injunction. If not enjoined, HB7 will negatively impact educators’ ability to prepare students to succeed in their careers—including in law enforcement,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative. “The Act’s ambiguity, particularly when combined with its penalty provisions, would significantly chill instructors’ willingness and ability to provide education on basic concepts of diversity, implicit bias, and community relations crucial to modern policing. This would undermine the capacity of law enforcement across Florida to fulfill its mission of protecting the public.”


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