CBS4's Eliott Rodriguez reports how the November 2020 election brought change to Broward County in ways never seen before.
ELLIOT RODRIGUEZ: We continue to celebrate Black History Month and the men making history in Broward County. For the first time in South Florida, voters elected a county sheriff, state attorney, and public defender who are all African-American. All three men say they understand the importance of their accomplishment.
The November 2020 election brought change to Broward County in ways never seen before. Voters elected Gregory Tony as sheriff, Harold Pryor as state attorney, and Gordon Weekes as public defender-- three African-American men overseeing criminal justice in Broward from arrest, to prosecution, and defense.
HAROLD PRYOR: I'm excited about the opportunity that we have to bring a different perspective to the criminal justice system. And I think we need that. I think we need that level of diversity in our leadership positions.
GORDON WEEKES: It's important when the community recognizes that our criminal justice system can be propelled into a-- a better direction.
GREGORY TONY: We have a huge challenge ahead of us. And I think this is a tremendous opportunity to really change or reform this criminal justice system.
ELLIOT RODRIGUEZ: Tony was appointed sheriff in January 2019 after Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Sheriff Scott Israel for his handling of the Parkland School shooting. After beating Israel in the Democratic primary, he defeated a Republican and an independent to win his first election.
GREGORY TONY: There is nothing greater than being selected by the people of your own county to be the duly elected sheriff. So it had a different meaning to it.
ELLIOT RODRIGUEZ: Pryor is a former assistant state attorney and lawyer in private practice. He promises to dedicate himself to criminal justice reform without compromising the safety of Broward residents.
HAROLD PRYOR: Sometimes justice is a guilty verdict. Sometimes justice is my office deciding not to bring charges against someone. But at the end of the day, we should be focused on getting the right outcome, seeking the truth.
ELLIOT RODRIGUEZ: Weekes served 20 years as an assistant public defender representing the poor, the mentally ill, and juveniles charged as adults in felony cases. The treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system, he said, needs to change.
GORDON WEEKES: The net has been cast too wide in the Black community where Black folks have been introduced in the system at a far greater rate and have had incredibly horrible outcomes.
ELLIOT RODRIGUEZ: The three criminal justice leaders are vowing to work together to change the system from within.
GORDON WEEKES: Electing people of color to the highest areas in the criminal justice system is a message.
HAROLD PRYOR: We have a criminal justice system that has been traditionally stacked against people of color and poor people. And so I think that's the first step to fixing the condition that we have in the criminal justice system.
ELLIOT RODRIGUEZ: To get elected, all three reached out beyond the African-American community, winning thanks to a cross-section of Broward voters.
GREGORY TONY: There has been recognition that what matters the most is not the color of someone's skin, in terms of the positioning, but more so, what are they bringing to the table. And how are they going to effectively change this criminal justice system and do the things that the community want?
- As they observe Black History Month, all three men recognize that with this historic opportunity comes historic responsibility. And you can find more on Black History Month, including video and slideshows. Go to cbsmonday.com/blackhistory. And we can't emphasize enough that they got to where they are thanks to a cross-section of voters in Broward County. They just didn't only appeal to Black voters, but to the community in general.
- And it's fascinating. We've learned so much over the last month about Black History. But history currently being made right here in our community, right now as we speak.
- And we get to report it. That's why we love our jobs.
- That's right.