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Florida pardons wrongly accused ‘Groveland Four’ after 70 years | News

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After a dramatic, hour-long meeting, Florida governor Ron DeSantis and the cabinet granted posthumous pardons to four young black men who were tortured, murdered or wrongly imprisoned for the rape of a white woman in 1949. 

The case of the men known as the “Groveland Four” has been documented in a book and is considered a blight on Florida’s history. One of the four was killed before he could be charged and the other three were convicted on dubious evidence.

The families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and the Cabinet – meeting as the clemency board – that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape.

The woman who was 17 years old when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape did indeed happen, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out”. 

At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.

“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson said.

“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.

“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson replied.

The unanimous vote to pardon came almost two years after the state House and Senate voted to formally apologise to relatives of the Groveland Four and to ask then-Governor Rick Scott to pardon the men.

Scott, now a US senator, never took action. DeSantis replaced Scott on Tuesday and made the pardons a priority.

“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied. Indeed, they were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice,” DeSantis said.

The ordeal began in Lake County in 1949, when the then-17-year-old said she had been raped. Three of the men were arrested and severely beaten; a fourth, Ernest Thomas, fled.

A posse of about 1,000 men was formed to hunt down Thomas. He was shot 400 times when they found him sleeping under a tree.

White residents also formed a mob and went to a black neighbourhood, burning houses and firing guns into homes in a disturbance that took days to quell.

All-white jury

Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were convicted by an all-white jury. Other evidence that could have exonerated them – such as a doctor’s conclusion that the teen probably wasn’t raped – was withheld at their trial. Greenlee was sentenced to life, and Irvin and Shepherd to death.

Thurgood Marshall, later the first African-American justice on the US Supreme Court, took up Irvin and Shepherd’s appeals for the NAACP, and in 1951 the US Supreme Court ordered new trials.

Just before those trials began, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot Irvin and Shepherd, claiming the handcuffed men tried to escape as he transferred them from prison to a jail. Shepherd died.

Irvin was shot in the neck and survived despite an ambulance refusing to transport him because he was black. He was again convicted, even though a former FBI agent testified that prosecutors manufactured evidence against him.

Charges were never brought against any white law enforcement officers or prosecutors who handled the cases.

Irvin was paroled in 1968 and found dead in his car while returning to Lake County for a funeral a year later.

Greenlee was paroled in 1960 and died in 2012.

Greenlee’s daughter, Carol Greenlee, told DeSantis and the Cabinet that there was overwhelming evidence that her father was innocent.”He was accused, put in jail and tortured for something he didn’t do,” she said.

The woman who said she was raped disputed the families’ stories.

“Y’all just don’t know what kind of horror I’ve been through for all these many years,” she said. “I don’t want them pardoned, no I do not, and you wouldn’t neither. I know (Robinson) called me a liar, but I’m not no liar.”

Afterward, state Senator Gary Farmer, who sponsored the 2017 resolution apologising to the families, said the woman’s comments were disappointing.

“She’s now here at the end of her life and she had a chance to come clean, to seek forgiveness for herself and to support the justice these four families and these four men deserve,” Farmer said.

“It’s very said that she lost this opportunity and continues to perpetuate this lie. This crime did not happen. The evidence is overwhelming.”

Members of the Greenlee family met with reporters after the vote. Carol Greenlee said while the family is grateful for the pardon, she wants her father exonerated.

“I started out with two goals in mind. One, for the world to know the truth, and that is my father is not a rapist. The second was to clear his name, so his children, his grandchildren and nieces and nephews would not continue to walk around with this stigma, with the shame,” she said.

“Those two things were accomplished. And the complete exoneration will close the gap. That’s our mission.”

Despite the pain the family went through, Greenlee’s brother, Wade, said his parents always taught their children to love and not hate.

“If I had an opportunity this morning, I would have told (the accuser) that the Greenlee family has forgiven her a long time ago. We have no hate against her because we were taught differently,” he said.

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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