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SPLC Action Fund: Grand jury investigation of school officials into alleged ‘school safety’ crimes erodes democracy, politicizes tragedy

The Florida Supreme Court recently ordered a statewide grand jury to investigate school officials in light of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. The high court’s order was in response to a request from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

By granting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ petition to impanel a statewide grand jury, the Florida Supreme Court has rubberstamped the gross abuse of the criminal process and an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars. The petition puts forth no evidence that school officials have actually engaged in any criminal activity. Instead, it serves to threaten and intimidate the local leaders of schools across the state who work hard every day to protect the students, parents and educators in their care.

The statewide grand jury was created in 1973 to “strengthen the grand jury system and enhance the ability of the state to detect and eliminate organized criminal activity by improving the evidence gathering process in matters which transpire or have significance in more than one county,” according to a Florida state statute.

The grand jury was not created to be a political weapon or to usurp the power of the people in order to oust democratically elected officials. DeSantis has already removed the locally elected sheriff of Broward County, and he has also attempted to remove duly appointed Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.

DeSantis’ authority failed him in the latter endeavor, as did his threats to remove democratically elected school board members who refused to follow his directive to fire Runcie. Now, he has resorted to an even lower level of executive overreach and abuse of power. Whatever your politics, this is a dangerous road that erodes democracy and makes our schools less safe.

While the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was incredibly tragic, its cause was not organized criminal activity involving educators. The single perpetrator is appropriately facing responsibility for his alleged actions in the criminal justice system.

DeSantis and other lawmakers, nonetheless, are creating phantom targets in the form of their political opponents, even as they ignore the persistent cries for reasonable gun laws and other common-sense policies from the students and families who survived the Parkland shooting.

Credit Tom Williams / Getty Images