Talking About Racism – Part 2: Dave Aronberg, State Attorney

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Dave Aronberg, Florida State Attorney

By Krista Martinelli

Dave Aronberg was elected in 2012 as Florida’s State Attorney and has been elected two more times since then.  “My goal is to keep our community as safe as possible.  I focused on reducing the number of opioid overdose deaths, and there has been a 40% reduction in opioid deaths since 2018.  Our community was ground zero for the drug industry, and we really cleaned up the rogue sober homes.” Regarding these problematic sober homes, they have made 105 arrests since October of 2016 and there are “more to come.”  Aronberg says he’s also focused on human trafficking and fighting animal cruelty.  Animal cruelty is critical, he explains, because “that is usually a link to other crimes.” Of course, he explains, his top priorities are the same as any state attorney: cracking down on violent crime and career criminals.  On top of that, he says, “I have focused on these 3 priorities (opioids, human trafficking and animal cruelty).”

I asked Aronberg how the murder of George Floyd affected him.  “It brought home America’s original sin.  Racial inequality is alive and well in the year 2020 . . . Unless we deal with it head on, right now, more people will die.”  The George Floyd murder was painful, but Aronberg adds that you can’t look at it in a vacuum; it needs to be looked at in the context of so many other killings. “Our country cannot go on like this.  It’s about time we stand up and do something!  It’s incumbent upon us, those of us who have not experienced racial bias, not to remain silent.”  And as for the choke hold that some police officers use, Aronberg says it should be illegal.

Dave Aronberg appears on the TV show “Morning Joe” on a weekly basis

Aronberg was born and raised in North Miami.  He went to Harvard and then Harvard Law School.  He then worked for a Miami-based law firm doing corporate litigation. He followed this up by going to the Attorney General’s office to fight consumer fraud.  In 2002, he was elected to the Florida Senate at the age of 31 (the youngest ever elected to the Senate) and served for eight years.  He took on the role of Drug Czar for the Attorney General.  Since 2012, he has been working as our Florida State Attorney. In addition, he is a weekly guest on MSNBC’s show “Morning Joe.”

We discussed the case of Nouman Raja, the police officer who killed Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens in 2015.  “I think it showed that no one is above the law in Palm Beach County.  It was the first time in 30 years that a Florida police officer was convicted for an on-duty shooting.  A jury found Raja guilty on March 7 of 2019, and Raja was sentenced to 25 years in prison. “It was a peaceful process,” says Aronberg. “The grace of the Jones and Banks families showed how peaceful protest is the foundation of our country.  It’s extremely powerful.  There was no violence in the streets.”

However, in another infamous Florida case, Aronberg explains that justice was not served – in the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 in Sanford, Florida.  “George Zimmerman instigated the encounter, even after a 911 operator told him not to pursue Trayvon Martin. In this case, justice was not done. Zimmerman has repeatedly been in and out of the criminal justice system since then for other offenses.” So Zimmerman got away with this heinous crime, but also Aronberg adds, “Zimmerman remains unrepentant about his actions, continuing to elude justice.”

As State Attorney, Aronberg believes it is his role to fight against systemic racism. “One thing is to lead by example.  No one is above the law.  As with Corey Jones, we will follow the evidence.”  He also believes in community outreach and holding town hall meetings.  “You need to be proactive. You don’t want to just ask minority communities for their vote, but you need to be there for them and develop a trust.  They want to trust in you and believe that you will do the right thing.

Aronberg with his rescue dog Cookie at the annual Wellington Holiday Parade.

As for the “Defund the Police” movement, Aronberg says the name is a “misnomer.”  “Very few people actually believe in dismantling the police. The debate is really over how to allocate resources.” He advocates for shifting some of the resources that go into militarization into things like mental health services.  “We need to fund mental health properly. Jail shouldn’t be the main provider of mental health services in Palm Beach County, but it is.”  Aronberg also says that the police have been stretched too thin with doing services that other people should be doing.  “This is a conversation we should be having.”

Aronberg adds, “I think that body cameras should be required for the police. It’s a great way to use technology to build trust with law enforcement.  If everyone is wearing a camera, it will go a long way to address these deep-seated issues that trouble so many Americans.”  He believes it should be a national thing and that it would be a positive step in the right direction.

“As for President Trump, he’s intentionally being divisive. It’s an electoral strategy.  He’s has doubled down on his base. This is not a secret, as it’s been a strategy since day one of his inaugural address.”

Banner that was held up by protesters at a Wellington Village Council meeting last month.

I shared a photo (above) with Aronberg of a banner that listed many of the names of people killed by PBSO in the past few years.  He responded, “We investigate all cases of officer-involved shootings and we go where the evidence leads.  As prosecutors, you have a very high burden, and can only charge based on facts you can prove.  The defendant gets all the benefits of the doubt.” He explains that you have to serve justice, using facts and evidence, “meeting your high burdens that are required under the law.”

As for the viral video of a US Department of Homeland Security employee man yelling racist remarks at 15-year old kids (who were in their own neighborhood) in the Grande Isles in Wellington, Aronberg comments, “I thought it was disgusting.”   See the video that made national news.

On a lighter note, Aronberg lives with Cookie, his dog, a basset hound rescue from Big Ranch Dog Rescue. “Cookie comes to the office with me every Friday.” Aronberg’s parents live in Delray Beach, and so do his sister, her husband and their little nieces (14 and 12).  “We’re all here in Palm Beach County,” says Aronberg. “I love the Sunshine State.  I love our climate, natural beauty and diversity.  The people are our biggest asset here in Palm Beach County.”

When it comes to talking about and addressing racism, Aronberg concludes, “We should not shy away from these issues.”

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Visit DaveAronberg.com