Austen Erblat Contact Reporter
South Florida Community News
Charges were dropped Tuesday against seven local activists who were arrested this summer for protesting outside of the Broward Transitional Center, an immigration detention center run by controversial Boca Raton-based private prison company GEO Group.
The activists, referred to as the BTC7, were arrested and charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor. They were protesting a number of issues, including the treatment and conditions of immigrants in detention in the United States and specifically at this facility and the private, for-profit prison system at large.
GEO Group is the second largest private prison company in the country and builds and operates state and federal facilities. It has been subject to a number of complaints regarding the treatment of detainees and has seen protests outside its future headquarters in Boca Raton and some of its facilities in South Florida.
According to a Sun Sentinel article from August, “Geo Group is the second-largest for-profit prison company in the country, owning or managing 139 prisons and other detention and correctional facilities, totaling about 96,000 beds. Those facilities include five private prisons in Florida, along with the 700-bed Broward Transitional Center, an immigration detention facility in Pompano Beach for ‘low-level’ detainees.”
Geo Group also has the largest contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The State Attorney’s Office announced its decision to file a notice of “no information” — a formal decision not to move forward with a case — in an email to the Sun Sentinel.
“The State Attorney’s Office will not be filing charges against the 7 individuals arrested for their part in a demonstration that took place in Deerfield Beach on July 16, 2018,” said Sarahnell Murphy, Assistant State Attorney in charge of County Court Division. “The defendants were lawfully arrested, however, given the circumstances surrounding their actions, there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction.”
Carlos Naranjo was one of the activists arrested at the protest. He said it is vital to speak up on causes that people are passionate about affecting communities.
“Well, it’s important because the horrors of today befalling our migrant communities, so emblematic of the history of this country against so many others in the past and today, beckons us to take up that powerful light, that tradition of fighting back for justice, dignity and true emancipation,” he said. “It’s important because it is all part of the truth we follow, that we will be victorious because freedom is on our side, and we will give all to achieve it.”
Despite having been arrested and imprisoned in conditions that he calls “atrocious,” Naranjo said he will continue to protest.
“Yes, again and again and again, because we know full well that’s how we’ll be victorious,” he said. “There’s no magic formula, and we have the benefit of coming from a tradition of justice warriors that guide us in the path. Change happens when many many people, often in ways that don’t get recognition, have a profound sense of commitment to the struggle and diligently, with love and courage, follow that path.”
“I am glad to hear that the state has decided that it’s not in the interest of the people to prosecute me or the rest of my accomplices,” said one of the other defendants, Christian Minaya. “I cannot speak for anyone but myself but I was personally driven to do this out of anger and frustrations at our broken and racist immigration system, love for our immigrant neighbors and moral conviction to use my privilege to stand in the way of this heartless, profit-driven prison system.”
The defendants were represented by Jennifer Edgley and John James, assistant public defenders at the Broward Public Defender’s Office. Gordon Weekes, chief assistant public defender, said it was a clear case of First Amendment-protected speech and the state did the right thing not going forward.
“It is important that we respect and encourage folks to speak up and stand up and to raise attention to issues that are important to the community and to society and that’s what those individuals were doing,” Weekes said. “The law always has to balance the need to respect a person’s First Amendment right to speak against the government when they are acting in a manner that is contrary to how society believes it should be acting and that’s what those individuals were doing and for the state to recognize that and then choose not to proceed forward in a criminal manner is the proper resolution in this matter.”
Weekes highlighted the broader importance of protesting as a vehicle for achieving political change.
“In this country, protest has always been a very important mechanism to cause the government to look at their actions and look at whether the course that they have embarked upon is an appropriate course to continue upon,” he said. “So you have to commend those individuals who take it upon themselves to raise their voice and bring attention to actions that may be contrary to what the community believes is appropriate.”