On Thursday morning in Macclenny, a group of around 25 protesters peacefully marched from a park to the Baker County Courthouse, calling for change in the largely rural county.
The march was organized by the newly formed Baker County Unity Project.
Some of the changes they want to see are more police accountability at the local level, an end to police brutality, and the removal of a mural sitting in the courthouse that depicts the history of Baker County and includes three members of the Klu Klux Klan riding on horseback.
Da’Jah Roberts took part in the protest and created a petition to relocate the mural, which was painted in 2001 by Eugene Barber, a local historian and reporter for the local paper, The Baker County Press.
“What people here are not understanding is that we're all here for protecting the integrity of the painting, and also compromising with those people who believe that it is their heritage,” Roberts said. “That's why we're pushing so hard for it to be rehomed and not defaced and removed.”
Roberts started a petition two days before the planned march, reaching over 1,000 signatures in that span. She would like to see it moved to the local historical society or to Heritage Park Village.
“I do have optimism,” Roberts said. “I do believe in my county, that hopefully, [County Commissioner] James
Croft sees our petition and finally sees that, you know, we're here for the change.”
Dominic Jerome Broadus Sr. also marched. He is the father of Dominic “DJ” Broadus, who was shot and killed in 2018 by a former Baker County Sheriff Officer’s son named Gardner Fraser.
Fraser was never charged with the killing, but rather tampering of evidence, as he said he didn’t know Broadus Jr., but deleted text messages showed they had a prior relationship, which was suspected to be intimate.
A trial date for Fraser is set for July 21. Broadus Sr. said he believes Fraser’s connections with the BCSO has helped him avoid further trouble, including a murder charge. He’s created a Facebook page - titled Justice4DJBroadus - that he regularly updates with details and opinions on the investigation.
“I'm not very optimistic about my son's case,” Broadus said. “And I hate to admit that, but I'm gonna keep pressuring and I'm gonna keep fighting, because that's what fighters do.”
However, Broadus said he is happy with the outcry for wide scale change he’s seen across the U.S.
“I have a mixed grandson, DJ’s son,” Broadus Sr. said. “I want him to be treated the same way you would be treated or any other person on this earth. I'm optimistic that we can make change if people stay focused. Don't become complacent.”
He said in smaller towns like Macclenny, people of color may be scared to voice their opinions.
“I've heard stories of the families here, and, you know, you can only be scared for so long. You're gonna be scared anyway. You might as well come out and take a stand. Don't let them scare you. Don't let them intimidate you,” Broadus said.
When planning the protest, Baker County Unity Project President Chase Wright said they received backlash from local community groups.
“Almost right off the bat, people were threatening us, calling us terrorists, telling us we needed to leave our county, [and] our country, but you know at the end of the day, we got to stand strong and stand together,” Wright said.
Wright said his organization planned alongside BCSO, telling the department what they were planning to do. When protesters lined the outside of the courthouse, multiple deputies were at the courthouse steps, the parking lot, and across the street.
“I was really nervous that there would be counter protests or that people would try to impede on this protest, but I'm very glad that it was peaceful,” said Stinesse Bravo, the Chairwoman of the Baker County Unity Project.
Angela Jenkins, an organization board member and treasurer who was born and raised in Baker County, said they are looking to get local funding so they can become an official 501c3 nonprofit.
“Ultimately, we want to be able to provide and do stuff for the community as well as the children who were here, like back-to-school specials or we want to feed them and have funding for giveaways and charities,” Jenkins said.
Wright said they are planning future events to show support for the local police department, along with a potential discussion panel with the local Southern Heritage chapter.
“We're advocating for Baker County,” Wright said. “We're not looking to support national organizations like Black Lives Matter or the Democratic Party or whatever other organizations that we’ve been rumored to be affiliated with. With everything we do, we're gonna do here locally.”
Sky Lebron can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.