BROWARD (CBSMiami) — Black history was made in Broward County last fall as voters elected three African-American men to the top elected offices in law enforcement and criminal justice.  For the first time in South Florida history, the County Sheriff, the State Attorney, and the Public Defender are all African-American and all three men understand the historical importance of that accomplishment.

The November 2020 election brought change to Broward County in ways never seen before. Voters elected Gregory Tony as Sheriff, Harold Pryor as State Attorney, and Gordon Weekes as Public Defender. Three African American men overseeing criminal justice in Broward from arrest, to prosecution and defense.

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“I’m excited about the opportunity given me to bring a different perspective to the criminal justice system and I think we need to new level of diversity in our leadership positions,” said Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor.

Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes said, “It is important when the community recognizes that our criminal justice system can be propelled in a better direction.”

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony, “We have a huge challenge ahead of us, this is a tremendous opportunity to reform the criminal justice system.”

Tony was appointed Sheriff in January 2019 after Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Scott Israel for his handling of the Parkland school shooting.  After beating Israel in the Democratic primary, he defeated a Republican and an Independent to win his first election.

“There is nothing greater than to be selected by the people of your county so there is a greater level of appreciation coming from myself,” said Sheriff Tony.

Pryor is a former Assistant State Attorney and lawyer in private practice. He promises to dedicate himself to criminal justice reform without compromising the safety of Broward residents.

“Sometimes justice is a guilty verdict, sometimes it’s no charges, but at the end of the day it’s not about guilty verdicts or wins because justice is not about that,” explained Pryor.

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Weekes served 20 years as an Assistant Public Defender, representing the poor, the mentally ill and juvenile charged as adults in felony cases. The treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system, he said, needs to change.

“The net has been cast too wide in the black community, Black men have been introduced into the system too young and have had horrible outcomes,” said Weekes.

The three criminal justice leaders are vowing to work together to change the system from within.

“Electing people of color to the highest offices in the criminal justice system is a message that we need to evaluate and take a look at how things have been done in the past,” said Weekes.

Pryor agrees.

“We have a criminal justice system that has been traditionally stacked against people of color and poor people so this is a first step in fixing our criminal justice system,” said Pryor.

To get elected all three reached out beyond the African American community, getting elected by a cross section of Broward voters.

For each of us to win the public’s trust in a convincing way it speaks to where this community is there is recognition that what matters is not and do the thing the community wants,” said Tony.

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As they observe Black History Month, all three men recognize that with historic opportunity comes historic responsibility.

Eliott Rodriguez