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Activist Ben Frazier to speak at UN about 'human rights violations' in Florida

Ben Frazier.jpg
Will Brown
/
WJCT News
Ben Frazier, founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, leads a unity protest on the steps of City Hall on May 16, 2022.

Jacksonville activist Ben Frazier is taking his fight for civil rights in Florida to a global audience.

Frazier, the founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, will speak next week in Geneva, Switzerland, before a committee of the United Nations.

The UN Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination is dedicated to monitoring human rights violations across the globe. It meets in Geneva for its 107th session in August. Frazier said he’s been asked to speak in Geneva because the Northside Coalition is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Florida’s “anti-riot” bill.

“We see this governor as being the mastermind and ringleader behind HB 1, the anti-protest law that criminalizes protests, violates First Amendment rights, and is designed to punish Black community organizers such as myself. You may remember that the governor had me arrested. So we're going to Geneva because the governor is in fact violating international law,” Frazier said during an appearance on WJCT News 89.9’s "First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross."

In January, the 72-year-old Frazier was handcuffed and escorted out of his electric wheelchair at a Jacksonville news conference held by Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Duval County Health Department. A trespass charge against him was later dropped.

HB1 is the Florida law championed by DeSantis after nationwide protests in 2020 focused on racial justice after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

Lawsuits challenging the Florida measure argue it violates the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by having a discriminatory purpose. It redefines a riot and enforces stricter penalties on those deemed to be rioters.

Opponents argue that people engaged in peaceful protest or those who happen to be in the same area where a demonstration turns violent could potentially face criminal charges and stiff penalties. A preliminary injunction was issued against the law in September 2021. The governor has appealed in an effort to overturn the injunction and reinstate it.

Frazier, who founded the Northside Coalition to advocate for social, racial and economic justice in the city, says the anti-protest bill is just one of several issues he’ll address in Geneva. Whether it’s HB 1, new voting restrictions, laws banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools, or the redrawing of congressional districts in the state, he’ll frame them as part of a series of “human rights violations” in Florida.

“In 1994, the U.S. signed an international treaty calling for the elimination of racism and racial discrimination. We are signatories. We are obliged to follow these requirements, as with any other international law that we signed," Frazier said. "So let's be clear, this is no small potatoes matter. We are violating international law. This governor has launched all-out racially discriminatory attacks on Black people and people of color. He's trying to turn back the hands of time to try to stifle the progress of the civil rights movement.

"So we're asking the world to take a closer look. We are still being targeted and victimized by racist laws that strike at the very core and mission of the United Nations: equity, dignity and human rights. It's time for us to straighten up and fly right,” he said.

In June of this year, the UN CERD committee published a list of themes for its upcoming review of the U.S. They include addressing “the disparate impact of gun violence on individuals belonging to ethnic minorities and Indigenous Peoples,” “measures to address systemic racism in law enforcement,” “measures to prevent the implementation of state and local regulations restricting voting rights, which have a discriminatory impact on people of African descent, Hispanic/Latino communities, other ethnic minorities and Indigenous Peoples, including voter identification laws, district gerrymandering, closing or moving polling locations and felon disenfranchisement laws,” and “measures to guarantee the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities.”

Said Frazier: “The governor doesn't want them to teach about white supremacy and slavery because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Well, folks, I got news for you. That's discrimination.

"[Gov. DeSantis] dictated the toughest measures designed to suppress the Black vote, the most precious right we have. He has twisted congressional redistricting maps that make it harder to elect Black candidates. Guess what, folks? That's discrimination. And he's the mastermind behind this HB 1 law, this twisted violation of our most basic rights, our First Amendment rights to protest and to assemble.”

Frazier will speak in Geneva on Tuesday, Aug. 9. A live stream should be available here.

Long a familiar face around Jacksonville, Frazier says the UN invitation is his first trip to Europe. “I may bring back a Swiss Army knife as a souvenir,” he joked.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.