Orange County Race and Justice Panel

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

panel line up

Last week, I participated in a panel discussion about race and justice in Central Florida. Moderated by the Honorable Judge Faye Allen, the panel included Major Vereen from the Orange County Sheriff’s office, state senator Gary Siplin, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, state attorney Jeff Ashton, and criminal defense attorneys Alisia Adamson and Louis Calderon.

Judge Allen asked each of the panelists how the criminal justice system in Central Florida rates in regards to treatment of African Americans. Both law representatives of law enforcement gave our system a rating of “fair.” I agreed, and I suggest that unless everyone involved in the criminal justice system admits that there is a bias in the system, we won’t be able to fix it. One practical way to instill trust is to fund and utilize body cameras. Daytona Beach P.D. has had them for a couple of years, and use of force incidents have dropped, as well as complaints against cops. There has even been an increase in pleas to criminal events which were recorded, which saves an enormous amount of funds.

Below are some highlights from the discussion:

Social Justice Round Table, March 19

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

Thursday, March 19th, I’ll contribute to a panel discussion designed to identify solutions for promoting positive relationships between law enforcement, the courts, and the community. The Honorable Judge Faye Allen will moderate, and I’ll join a distinguished panel that includes State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and defense attorneys Louis Calderon and Alissa Adamson.

I believe that the American justice system is the best justice system in the world, but it is not perfect. Minorities, especially African Americans, are grossly over-represented in our jails and prisons -- a clear sign that an implicit racial bias infects our system. It breeds resentment and distrust. In the wake of Ferguson, we’re witnessing a crisis of confidence in our justice system.

Instituting police body cameras is a start. Rebuilding the Ferguson Police Department will send a strong message to law enforcement agencies everywhere that they should reevaluate how they train officers in regards to use of force policies and racial sensitivity. We need to ask politicians to provide the funding needed to implement community policing programs. We need to change our mandatory minimum sentencing laws to give more discretion to judges who are most qualified assess the the specific facts on any particular case; it is not, afterall, a one-size-fits-all justice system.

I hope you’ll join me for what promises to be a rousing and important discussion between people who have the power to affect positive change in how the criminal justice system works in Central Florida. Press welcome.

Thursday, March 19 at 5:30PM

New Covenant Baptist Church
2210 South Rio Grande Ave.
Orlando, FL 32805

Can the Ferguson PD be saved?

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Opinion


After a police officer shot Michael Brown, the Federal Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department. What investigators found was a "pattern and practice" of discrimination against African-Americans. In a town with a black population of 67%, black people represented 85% of vehicle searches, 90% of the traffic violations and 93% of the arrests. There is no way to justify this.

The Department of Justice has an opportunity to gut the Ferguson Police Department and rebuild it from scratch. In fact, it's more than an opportunity: It's a necessity.

Mathew Ajibade Memorial Notice

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Advocacy

Memorial for Mathew Ajibade
11 AM Saturday, March 7, 2015
Adams Funeral Services
510 Stephenson Ave, Savannah, GA 31405

mathew ajibadeMathew Ajibade’s friends knew him as Matt Black -- a smart, charismatic, passionate young man who won the hearts of everyone he met. On Saturday, March 7, Matt would have celebrated his 23rd birthday. Instead, his friends and family will gather for a memorial service to celebrate his life. Matt died on New Year’s Day while in the care of the Chatham County Detention Center.

Those who knew Matt, knew he suffered from bipolar disorder. On January 1st, he experienced a manic episode. Matt’s girlfriend called 911 for help; she wanted an ambulance to take Matt to the hospital, but because she wasn’t specific with dispatch, they sent police instead of medics. Rather than being taken to the hospital, Matt was taken to the Chatham County Detention Center where he died in a restraining chair.

We still do not know why Matt died. This memorial will provide an opportunity for friends and family to express their grief over their loss -- but it will also be a time to demand answers about the circumstances surrounding Matt’s death. It will be an opportunity to start a conversation about how law enforcement handles people with mental illness.

This event is open to the public. It is not just for those who knew Matt, but for anyone who has a concern about how law enforcement engages with people with mental illnesses. It is for anyone who has a concern about how law enforcement engages with young men of color. It is for anyone who wishes to lend their voice to Matt’s friends and family’s call for justice.

View the Facebook Event Page for Matt's Memorial»