South Florida pastors denounce DeSantis for his 'monkey this up' remark

'We need to silence the dog whistle,' black clergymen say

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Several South Florida pastors are banding together to denounce Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis after his "monkey this up" remark while speaking about the policies of Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum.

Pastors from five predominantly black churches in Miami-Dade County stood outside the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church on Thursday morning as they challenged DeSantis to clear the cloud that hangs over him in the race for Florida governor.

"Politics is not only a political thing, but it's a moral thing and an honorable thing, and … the words that came out of Mr. DeSantis' mouth (were) not moral and (were) not honorable," the Rev. Carl Johnson said.

Their message comes a day after DeSantis' controversial words were used to discuss Gillum's policies during a live television interview on Fox News.

"The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state," DeSantis said Wednesday morning.

Johnson, a pastor at the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church, and the other clergymen warned of the danger that comes with using one of the oldest stereotypes to discredit Gillum, who is black.

"We know that this is a political battle, but it needs moral clarity because the fight is not just for the soul of Florida, (but) for the soul of our country," the retired Rev. Joaquin Willis said. "We need a governor capable of taming his tongue."

DeSantis won Tuesday's primary election after receiving the endorsement of President Donald Trump. The president criticized Gillum on Twitter, calling him a socialist mayor "who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city."

Gillum is the mayor of Tallahassee.

"We need to silence the dog whistle, and don't say we don't hear it, because many of us have heard it so many times before," Willis said.

Stephen Lawson, communications director for the DeSantis campaign, said the characterization of racism is "absurd."

"Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses," Lawson said. "To characterize it as anything else is absurd. Florida's economy has been on the move for the last eight years and the last thing we need is a far-left Democrat trying to stop our success."