The Jacksonville murders refocus attention on the city’s racist past and the struggle to move forward


By some measures, the city was making strides out from its racist past. But the killing of three black people Saturday by a white male shooter was a painful and staggering reminder that remnants of racism still fester in Jacksonville, Florida.

what happened in jacksonville, “It could have happened anywhere, except it happened in Jacksonville,” said longtime resident Rodney Hearst, 79.

The shooting occurred as the Jacksonville community was preparing for the annual commemoration of what is known as Ax Handle Saturday. In an unforgettable display of brutality 63 years ago, a mob of white people used baseball bats and the handles of axes to beat pacifist black demonstrators protesting against segregation at a downtown lunch counter on August 27, 1960. Police stood by at first but joined the white mob when the mob began black in combat. Instead of rounding up any white agitators, the police arrested many blacks.

Hearst, who was 16 when the historic violence erupted, is encouraged by the progress in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, but worries that racism is normalizing again because of the country’s divisive politics.

However, he said, “Jacksonville didn’t need anyone to help perpetuate its racism.”

Jacksonville County Sheriff TK Waters said the notes he left 21-year-old shooterRyan Palmeter explained that he was targeting black residents of a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Jacksonville.

Waters said Palmeter used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock pistol to kill his victims, and both weapons were purchased legally earlier this year despite his involuntary 72-hour mental health exam in 2017.

He shot and killed Angela Michelle Carr, 52, as she sat in her car and chased AJ Laguerre, 19, through a Dollar General store before shooting him. third victim, Gerald Galleon29, was killed entering the store.

Then the shooter killed himself.

Palmeter sent statements to federal law enforcement and the media indicating that his attack marked a milestone Fifth anniversary A shooting at a video game tournament in Jacksonville left two people dead. This attacker also killed himself.

Somewhat baffling is the apparent lack of a racial motive in the shootings five years ago, which raises questions about why Palmitre cited the attack in his writing.

Jacksonville is home to nearly a million people, about a third of whom are black, and is located just south of Florida’s border with Georgia. The city is still coping with its Southern heritage while trying to become more cosmopolitan in the shadows of the state’s other big cities: Miami, known for its glitzy nightlife and attractive beaches, and Orlando, home to world-famous Disney World and Universal. amusement park.

In recent years there have been signs that Jacksonville is changing, and it may still be.

Jacksonville elected its first black mayor in 2011. Two years later, there was another watershed moment when a coalition of activists persuaded the school board, after years of failed attempts, to rename a high school in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general. and the first great wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Since then, the city has continued to sever its ties to its racist past by removing a statue of a Confederate soldier atop a memorial in a park adjacent to City Hall. The eradication process was completed by the former mayor of Jacksonville, a Republican who previously served as his party’s statewide chairman.

Donald Trump carried Duval County in the 2016 presidential election. Two years later, the black Democratic candidate running for governor, Andrew Gillum, won the county but lost narrowly at the state level to the incumbent governor. Ron DeSantis. in 2020, Joe Biden carried Duval County Thanks to a massive turnout of black voters — the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won the county since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

And earlier this year, Democrat Donna Deegan, who is white, was elected mayor of Jacksonville. Waters, a black Republican, took over the sheriff’s office in January.

“Some days we feel like we’re going backwards,” Degan said, tearing up Sunday while addressing a crowd at St. Paul AME Church, 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from the site of the shooting.

Former state senator Audrey Gibson, who represented a predominantly black district in Jacksonville, said one event should not define a community.

“I don’t think you can use one person to say there is a racial issue in Jacksonville,” she said, even if the historical pattern of racial divisions continues today, especially in wealth and economics.

Gibson said there are still many unknowns about the shooter’s motives and why he chose this particular neighborhood, although “it was clear he was trying to attack black people no matter who they were.”

Social justice activists like Michael Sampson, who founded the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, have long hoped for lasting change but keep waiting.

He said Saturday’s shooting is “a reminder that we’re still in the same place.”

Sampson pointed out 10 black people were killed in a Buffalo supermarket In May 2022 at the hands of a white supremacist, who has been sentenced to prison life in prison in feb.

“This happened in Buffalo,” Sampson said. “You had a racist murderer trying to kill black people at random, and now this happened in Jacksonville — it happened in Jacksonville — so there’s a culture that needs to be addressed there.”

Sampson said Ax Handle Saturday is a constant reminder of Jacksonville’s racist past, and of the brutality against black residents with frequent shootings and three deaths.

“This violence is still something we face every day,” he said.

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