11th Circ. Block Of 'Stop WOKE' Act Is Good For Public Safety

By Miriam Krinsky and Diane Goldstein | April 19, 2024, 1:06 PM EDT ·

Miriam Krinsky
Miriam Krinsky
Diane Goldstein
Diane Goldstein
Police officers are entrusted with a gun and badge to keep communities safe. With that comes great responsibility, since mistakes by law enforcement can carry grievous consequences and damage bonds of trust that are essential to public safety. That's why the officers we hire, and the ways in which we train them, are so critical.

But Florida's Individual Freedom Act, also known as the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees, or Stop WOKE, Act, threatens to restrict the educational opportunities of current and future law enforcement officers statewide, undermining their core mission to protect the communities they serve.

So it was heartening to see the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit block enforcement of these provisions in a unanimous decision on March 4.[1]

The Stop WOKE Act,[2] which was signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in April 2022, regulates mandatory workplace training and educational instruction related to race and gender, including a ban on teaching that people are "privileged or oppressed" because of their race, color, sex or national origin.

The legislation equates such training and education to discrimination, thereby limiting public discussion of race relations throughout the state.

While the law has been prevented from taking effect due to the Eleventh Circuit decision and lower court rulings, its potential consequences are clear. Though DeSantis said the legislation was meant to protect against "state-sanctioned racism" and a "hostile work environment,"[3] it would actually undermine the ability of law enforcement to keep communities safe, and it would infringe on constitutional rights.

The court's recent opinion in Honeyfund.com Inc. v. Governor, State of Florida, went so far as to say that the bill "penalizes certain viewpoints — the greatest First Amendment sin."

Given the enduring racial disparities in policing,[4] the documented incidents of police racism in more than 100 police departments in nearly every state since 2009,[5] and the numerous detailed reports[6] about the pervasiveness of white supremacists within law enforcement,[7] we simply cannot afford to go backward.

In fact, the education targeted by the law is something that has been taught to law enforcement in Florida — and elsewhere — for decades.

For more than 30 years, state law has required certified law enforcement officers to complete continuing education that includes mandatory human diversity training. Veteran officers are also required by state law to get similar training on this topic as a condition of continuing employment.

Nearly all of these training programs are provided by community colleges, junior colleges, and vocational or technical institutions, where the ability to teach diversity training will be severely restricted if the Stop WOKE Act were allowed to go into effect.

This kind of training should be essential for law enforcement because public safety relies on community trust. If people believe that institutions are working to keep them safe, they are more likely to seek help, come forward as crime victims and witnesses, cooperate with investigators, and participate in efforts to prevent future violence.

Given that crime often disproportionately affects Black and brown communities, building trust requires law enforcement to understand the diverse communities they serve and recognize the implicit biases that may affect their work.[8]

Indeed, a 2016 report from Stanford SPARQ and the California Attorney General's Office found that, among police executives who participated in training on implicit bias and procedural justice, they indicated they had increased sympathy toward the community and believed that such trainings could improve community relations.[9]

It does a disservice to all communities if we try to erase the racist history of policing in our country and ignore how it may continue to influence current practices. For most of our country's history, police have been on the front lines of enforcing discrimination against historically marginalized groups and individuals, frequently with violence.

Many individuals beaten down by law enforcement and attacked with police dogs during the Civil Rights Movement are still members of our communities, as are some of those who attacked them. This is recent history, not the ancient past, and we can either learn from it or use it to divide us further.

The Stop WOKE Act takes us backward, as do other efforts happening nationwide to restrict honest discussions of race. It is not discrimination to learn about cultures different from your own or to understand how your own lived experiences affect how you see the world, including in ways that may be challenging or uncomfortable to consider.

We should all be open to doing that, but it's especially essential when you are a law enforcement officer entrusted with making split-second decisions that can end someone's life.

While diversity training will certainly not fix policing on its own, it is one important piece of how we can continue moving toward more effective, humane and equitable policing that keeps us all safe. We need leaders committed to working together toward these solutions, especially at this critical moment in time of mounting distrust in law enforcement and divisiveness.

Miriam Aroni Krinsky is the executive director at Fair and Just Prosecution. She formerly served as a federal prosecutor, and is the author of "Change from Within: Reimagining the 21st-Century Prosecutor."

Lieutenant Diane Goldstein (Ret.) is the executive director at Law Enforcement Action Partnership and a 21-year veteran of the Redondo Beach Police Department.

Disclosure: Fair and Just Prosecution and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs-appellees in Pernell et al. v. Lamb et al., a lawsuit challenging the Stop WOKE Act.

"Perspectives" is a regular feature written by guest authors on access to justice issues. To pitch article ideas, email expertanalysis@law360.com.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employer, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article286265425.html.

[2] https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/7.

[3] https://www.flgov.com/2021/12/15/governor-desantis-announces-legislative-proposal-to-stop-w-o-k-e-activism-and-critical-race-theory-in-schools-and-corporations/.

[4] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2022/12/22/policing_survey/.

[5] https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/legaldocs/zjvqkmrkgvx/KKK%

[6] https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/prevalence-white-supremacists-law-enforcement-demands-drastic-change-2022-05-12/.

[7] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/hidden-plain-sight-racism-white-supremacy-and-far-right-militancy-law.

[8] https://www.americanprogress.org/article/gun-violence-disproportionately-and-overwhelmingly-hurts-communities-of-color/.

[9] https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/law_enforcement/principled-policing-white-paper.pdf.

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