Orlando rally protests governor's suspension of former state attorney Worrell
Supporters of suspended state attorney Monique Worrell gathered outside Orlando City Hall Thursday evening to rally against what many called a “fascist” threat to democracy.
Worrell was Orange and Osceola counties’ top prosecutor and the only Black state attorney in Florida.
The rally came one day after Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Worrell from office. She was elected to the position in 2020 as a Democrat.
Groups such as Equal Ground, Florida Rising, Poder Latinx, Florida for All, and dozens more were present at the event, including several other progressive organizations, law makers, activists, and locals.
Community leaders, such as Rep. Anna Eskamani, Congressman Maxwell Frost, and Worrell herself were there and took to the podium.
The people's right to democracy
For those in the crowd, their intention, they said, was to raise awareness, call out an “attack on democracy,” and garner support for Worrell’s re-election bid in 2024.
Sergio Cartagena, a UCF student and the president of the Young Democrats of Orange County, said it’s important for voters to get an idea of what is actually going on.
“First and foremost, (we need) education for people. Just to understand what happened because, at the end of the day, we are fighting what a lot of people are calling a fascist move and governor,” he said. “Also, State Attorney Monique Worrell will be on the ballot in 2024. And everyone who is upset at this decision needs to show it by going out to vote again next year.”
One of the people at the event, Jerry Rogers, a retired FPL technician who voted for Worrell in 2020, said Floridians have been dealing with a lot from the DeSantis administration, going as far as removing Black history from schools, but that losing the right to count his vote was the tipping point for him.
He said if the people think Worrell is doing a bad job, then it is up to them to vote for someone else who can do better. What the people don’t need, he said, is someone making decisions that stand above and in spite of a democratic process.
“The idea is to be left up to the voters to make that decision, not for somebody for cheap political gain to remove somebody. But obviously we’re not gonna get that chance this year. My vote, when I voted for her three years ago, has been disregarded. It’s been thrown away. I don’t count anymore,” he said.
Disagreement with DeSantis
DeSantis, an outspoken critic of Worrell, said she avoided minimum mandatory sentences on charges that included gun crimes and drug trafficking. The executive order said she also limited the number of charges on child pornography.
Timothy Ayers disagrees with the governor's decision. He is the president of the Orange County Black Caucus and said Worrell shows a track record of adequately performing the job she was voted in to do and that the governor’s decision was purely political.
“Well, let’s look at the facts: In both counties the crime rate has gone down,” he said. “Second, she has convicted more cases than her prior two predecessors, so I’m unsure why the governor is basing it on that because the facts don’t show that,” Ayers said.
Community members of several faith-based organizations were also in attendance. One such person was Sandra Perez, a retired paralegal and Osceola County resident who voted Worrell into office.
Perez was there with other members of The Kingdom Church and the Florida Rising group. She said the governor's decision was a wrong political move and part of a larger agenda of preventing community mobilization and progress.
"They keep striking down our leaders that are trying to reach an area where we could get justice. What he brought as an excuse, it doesn't have any traction. We voted for her, we supported her, we still support her, and when she runs again we'll support her again,” she said.
The results and consequences
DeSantis appointed Republican judge and former assistant state attorney Andrew Bain as Worrell’s replacement.
Bain then released a 100-day plan for his new position. In it, he said his focus will be on “victim-first prosecution” against major criminal offenses, promising “swift and just resolutions.”
Supporters said their efforts won’t end at this rally and that they aim to keep the issue burning until the next election.
“Not only are we starting here, we’ll be in Tallahassee. We’ll be at the Capitol. We’ll be wherever we need to be,” said Macene Isom, a retired worker of Orlando International Airport. “I’ve been here 80 years in Orlando, and I don’t wanna go back to where I come from in 1961 — when the seats were taken up from us, right across the street there.
“And here’s a lady trying to do the work, and this man turns around and just suspends her from her job.” Isom said. “I’m tired of it. And I’m here to do what (Worrell) said: I’m not going to shut up.”
Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.