On May 20, 2015, David G. Queen Jr., the son of community activist Tangela Sears, was gunned down in an apartment complex parking lot in Tallahassee. In the months that followed, Sears shared her pain with other parents whose children had been killed by gun-toting criminals. They've now formed an organization — Miami-Dade Parents of Murdered Kids — to stop the violence.
"People are there for you during the moment," Sears says, "but there are things we go through afterward. By bringing the parents together, I was able to see the difference between being an advocate and a victim. They were suffering in silence."
Miami-Dade Parents has been participating in weekly trips to Tallahassee to support the passage of a bill that would exempt the personal information of murder investigation witnesses from public disclosure until after a trial or the statute of limitations expires. Drafted by Tampa state Rep. Ed Narain, a first-time Democrat, the legislation has bipartisan support. Dane Eagle, a Republican state representative from Fort Meyers, and Cynthia Stafford, a Democratic state representative from Miami, are cosponsoring the bill.
Sears and the parents support the legislation because eyewitnesses are often reluctant to come forward out of fear that defendants and their fellow gang members will seek revenge. "A lot of people won't talk," Sears says. "Confidential informants are protected in federal criminal cases. It's very clear we need something similar at the state level."
Of course, First Amendment protectors and public defenders oppose the witness protection bill. Barbara A. Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, told the Tampa Tribune the legislation is like a "sledgehammer" to Florida's open record laws.
I disagree with Petersen. Black communities from Miami to Tampa are under siege from gun violence. "People don't understand we are in a state of emergency," Sears says. "We have a killing a day."
Witnesses deserve the same level of protection afforded to police, whose personal information is already exempt from Florida's sunshine law.
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