June 4, 2020
Glades Activists to Commissioner Fried: Walk the Talk! Repair the Injustices of Yesterday and Today
BELLE GLADE, FL — Sierra Club and the Stop the Burn Campaign leadership, a group of local activists fighting to protect their communities from the scourge of pre-harvest sugar field burning in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area, sent a letter to Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried following her response on Twitter to the Black Lives Matter protests. The letter:
June 4, 2020
Commissioner Nikki Fried Florida
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Plaza Level 10, The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St. Tallahassee, FL 32399-0800
RE: Sugar field burning and systemic racism in the Glades
Dear Commissioner Fried:
We, the Stop The Burn Campaign leadership and Sierra Club, believe systemic racism is a cancerous tumor that if not treated will ultimately prove fatal to our society. Disproportionate police brutality on communities of color, mass incarceration, discriminatory lending practices, lack of access to health care, disproportionate exposure to pollution, and many other forms of racial discrimination imposed on black and brown people reflect a system that does not value all lives equally. Our collective humanity depends on laws, principals and a culture that place a value on all human life regardless of race or income. This is why both the Stop the Burn Campaign and the Sierra Club firmly stand in solidarity with protests and movements across the nation demanding an end to systemic racism in its many forms.
Our Stop the Burn Campaign is committed to addressing the environmental injustice of preharvest sugar field burning. This toxic practice disproportionately impacts the predominantly Black and Brown communities in the Glades, along with other communities, with smoke and dirty ash that choke our families for up to eight months every year, while wind-based regulations were put in place decades ago to protect the affluent whiter communities in eastern Palm Beach and Martin counties. Our goal is to replace pre-harvest sugar field burning with green harvesting, a more sustainable practice that can provide new economic opportunities to the region. You recently provided a teachable moment in a tweet addressing the recent protests sparked by George Floyd’s death:
Black leaders of the Stop the Burn Campaign have been speaking out to you since even before you were elected. They have urged you to change the discriminatory rules that have harmed generations of Glades residents and create a buffer zone around their communities as a first step to protecting them from the toxic pollution caused by pre-harvest sugar field burning. You have the authority to make these changes but you have done nothing to protect us.
You can hear us again here:
- 5/6/20: Kina Phillips, resident of South Bay, at Florida Poor People's Campaign Digital Town Hall: https://bit.ly/2XPUpQE
- 11/23/19: Belle Glade protest: http://bit.ly/35rPKWY
- 4/18/19 Florida Poor People's Campaign Belle Glade Field Hearing: http://bit.ly/2m0GkAE
It is a shame that tragic events like the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and far too many others have to occur to draw our collective attention to the insidious injustices of systemic racism in our country. White Americans have the privilege of ignoring these many issues whereas black and brown Americans, unfortunately, have to experience such injustices as a reality day in and day out. We hope this tough time can create an opportunity for people across all races and socioeconomic backgrounds to unite and demand real accountability for all injustice perpetrated by forms of systemic racism. It is time for all to become a part of the solution.
As citizens it is our responsibility to hold politicians to task to pursue meaningful reform and not just lip service. Policies that recognize and address racial disparities have to be enacted and implemented. These policies have to go beyond just addressing police brutality and mass incarceration. The climate crisis is very much a racial crisis. Black communities are dying from toxic air pollution exposure-related deaths at higher rates than the national average. This is partly because corporate polluters, including the Florida sugar industry, are permitted to dump toxic pollution on lower-income communities of color while white communities are afforded more protection. This environmental injustice is now contributing to the higher rates of COVID-19 deaths in black and brown communities all over the United States, the Glades included. This environmental racism is allowed by regulatory policies; corporate polluters are permitted to profit at the expense of black and brown lives. We must push for clean energy and regenerative agriculture solutions that can provide green jobs that uplift rather than pollute frontline communities.
Commissioner Fried, you have the power to "make changes to repair the injustice of yesterday and today." If you do not protect the communities of color in the Glades your words will ring hollow. You will either work to stop pre-harvest sugar field burning or continue to be part of the problem by upholding the forms of systemic racism present in Florida's sugarcane burning regulations and practices.
This is the moment for you to act to transform the Glades into a more just place for people of color to breathe, live and raise their families.
Stop The Burn Campaign Leadership Team
Sister Laura Cavanaugh
Patrick Ferguson, Sierra Club organizing representative
Link to Commissioner Fried Twitter feed:
Link to April 27, 2020, joint letter: