The Dozier Journey 3,500 Days To Justice

I don't have a lot of time to walk around the house wringing my hands but being a pessimist since birth that's what I felt like doing in the weeks when our Dozier bill lay on the Governor's desk. However Governor Scott did realize the importance of the Dozier story, and signed the bill on June 2, 2017, a historical day for justice in Florida.

My mind went back immediately to April 18, 2017 in the House of Representatives when two misdeeds from several decades past were addressed, The Groveland Four rape case which took place in 1949 and the flogging of Dozier and Okeechobee boys in the 50's and 60's. One of the representatives, in speaking to me said it was quite a coincidence that these two cases of unjust violence from the past were being addressed on the same day.

I was one of those boys, sitting alongside a group of victims that have waited for justice since Carole Marbin Miller, Miami Herald, broke the Dozier story on October 19, 2008. The story has run for going on nine years and viewed by 1.18 billion people.

When the vote for apology to the Dozier victims passed, unanimously, along with a plan for memorials to be built, the entire members in the House had us stand to accept their apology with a long round of applause directed at us. I was stunned by their sincerity and grateful, but at the same time I was thinking that it was we who should be applauding them for having brought a terrible event, from six decades past, out of the darkness and rendered it justice.

I don't know how many administrations have passed since 1900, when the Florida Reform School opened, but I felt the administrations in those passing decades must have had hearts of stone, knowing that the boys were still being flogged for 45 more years after flogging was abolished by Gov. Hardee in 1922 as too brutal a punishment for even the most hardened convict. This mindset of cruelty came into Dozier from the convict camps during the convict lease system when torture was used in every camp.

This administration, the House and Senate, Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, the Florida Cabinet, Gov. Scott, Pam Bondi, Adam Putnam, Jeff Atwater, and our champions Gov. Bob Martinez and Sen. Bill Nelson made this happen. All of those who introduced the bill, Arthenia Joyner, Ed Narin, Tracie Davis. Darryl Rouson, Kelli Stargel and others I may not even be aware of, did something extraordinary and I hope with all my heart that they will be remembered for changing history. For their exceptional efforts two monuments will stand, one in the Tallahassee complex, one at Dozier, The White House Building will be owned by the State, as well as the Dozier cemetery, 1.2 million dollars is allocated for the monuments and to further search for living abusers and additional bodies.

While hearts of stone did nothing, this administration will leave a message in words written in stone, I do not know what they will be, but I'm pretty sure they will stand as a reminder of what happened and that if you harm, abuse or kill one of Florida's children, the State of Florida will pursue you, regardless of the passage of decades of time, and you will be found and face judgment. As former Senator Arthenia Joyner stated: “We can't go back and change the sins of the past, but we can set a reminder so that this never happens again.”

R. Straley