What does “woke” mean?

It’s a question liberals and progressives often would like to ask Republicans, whose ubiquitous use of the term “woke” — a phrase originally used by progressives to signify an awareness of racial and economic injustices endemic to U.S. society — has turned the word into a four-letter pejorative.

During the three-day trial this week challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, attorneys for Warren were able to put that question to aides for DeSantis, who called Florida the place where “woke goes to die” in his victory speech after being reelected last month.

Jean-Jacques Cabou, Warren’s attorney, noted DeSantis referred to Warren in his announcement of the suspension as a “woke ideologue” who “masqueraded” as a prosecutor. Then he asked some DeSantis officials what “woke” means to them.

Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ Communications Director said “woke” was a “slang term for activism, progressive activism” and a general belief in systemic injustices in the country.

Ryan Newman, DeSantis’ General Counsel, echoed the part about systemic injustices, specifically regarding the criminal justice system.

“To me it means someone who believes that there are systemic injustices in the criminal justice system and on that basis they can decline to fully enforce and uphold the law,” Newman said.

Asked what “woke” means more generally, Newman said “it would be the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

Newman added that DeSantis doesn’t believe there are systemic injustices in the U.S. He also emphasized he believed Warren’s “wokeism” led him to sign the pledge not to prosecute abortion crimes, the primary factor that led to his suspension.

Using “prosecutorial discretion” to not prosecute an entire class of crimes is a “fundamental misunderstanding” of how a prosecutor’s discretion can be used, Newman said. And that pledge meant that DeSantis had to suspend Warren because DeSantis must ensure the law is enforced.

The trial over Warren’s suspension ended Thursday, and U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle said he will likely take at least two weeks to render a decision in the case. Warren has asked the court to reinstate him because the suspension violated his First Amendment rights.

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