Meeting for the third time since it’s June inception, Jacksonville’s Special Committee on Social Justice and Community Investment spoke at length about potential action items to create racial equity and more economic development in Jacksonville’s underserved communities.
A topic consistently brought up in recent months by several Jacksonville activist groups was police body cameras, and money that can be reallocated for mental health.
“We are not telling the public we are taking JSO’s budget and trying to redo it,” said Committee Co-Chair Brenda Priestly Jackson.
Councilman Ron Salem brought up police body cameras as a “huge issue in this community,” but said he doesn’t think progress on it will come from legislation.
“I think it may be more of somebody meeting with the state attorney, the sheriff [on] what can be done, how can we help and work together in order to get this film or data released in a much more timely fashion,” Salem said.
Earlier Monday, the Safety and Crime Reduction Committee - which includes several local community leaders - held its first meeting in March, and some members said they wanted to see more discussion on criticism from the public and activist groups, who have been very vocal since protests began in May.
“We need to really get at the elephant in the room,” said Richard Danford, the President of Jacksonville’s Urban League. “We continue to talk about crime and all these murders, but we see that the Sheriff’s Office budget has increased. I guess [Sheriff Mike Williams] needs all the money....What about prevention? I mean at some point, we’ve got to be realistic and show the community that we have some teeth.”
Danford and other members said so far, the commission hasn’t been very successful.
“The community is not happy with what we've done thus far, and I want to engage them,” Danford said.
“We have to definitely get out into the community and stop grandstanding because these people know us,” said Commission Member Timothy Sloan.
Commission Chair Mark Griffin said there was progress in getting money allocated for eliminating mental health stigmas and an administrative position for handling the requests of the commission, as well as a mentorship program and emergency response resources for areas that have recently undergone high volumes of violent crime.
The group is forming a subcommittee to review the documents and studies they’ve gathered over previous meetings to prioritize what to work on over the next year.
At the Social Justice and Community Investment Committee, Salem also said he was working on legislation that has garnered a ton of discussion in the past week - the process of renaming parks and buildings.
“In this community presently, it is a six week cycle,” Salem said. “I am developing legislation that will modify that a little bit and provide significantly more public input through that process. I by no means, shape, or form want to change what's going on right now with a couple of the names, but I'd like to see a much more broader, extensive process.”
A council committee last week got into a heated debate regarding the renaming of Hemming Park in Downtown Jacksonville after civil rights activist James Weldon Johnson Jr., before it was deferred for two weeks.
Meanwhile, Duval County Public Schools is working on changing the names of several of its schools named after Confederate generals.
On Monday, Committee Co-Chair Matt Carlucci said he spoke with Superintendent Diana Greene on potentially renaming one of the schools after Earl Johnson, another civil rights activist from Jacksonville and first African-American member of the Jacksonville Bar Association.
Carlucci said he attempted to have a school named after Johnson in the 1980s, but it didn’t get enough traction.
“I feel now that there may be a window opening. I want to try to fulfill that promise that I made to the Johnson family,” Carlucci said.
However, Priestly Jackson, who used to be on the county school board, said she wanted to be weary of renaming schools.
“I actually probably have mixed feelings if we move to naming schools after individuals, because I think the more research we do on different folks, the more challenging some history comes up on different forms,” Priestly Jackson said.
A slew of other topics and potential solutions were brought up by other committee members.
Councilman Michael Boylan gauged the group’s interest on Medicare-For-All. No member showed outward support for the controversial subject, but some did bring up the need for more health care access to underserved and poor communities in Jacksonville.
Priestly Jackson said she would be speaking with the Public Works department to determine the infrastructure needs across the city, with preference to the Northside and Westside. In a related move, Carlucci said he was researching the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, and the amount that has been used on the actual communities rather than large-scale projects for other entities or ash-site removal.
Councilwoman Randy DeFoor brought up helping out neighborhoods through infrastructure and public art, while Councilman Randy White discussed the need for neighborhood clean-ups.
The committee also heard from Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who said he wanted to give $2.8 million from his district’s Community Redevelopment Agency to supply funding for any action items brought forth by the committee.
“I don't want nobody in District 7 or nobody in Jacksonville to say I don't have any more projects...I do. But I understand that the needs and Jacksonville is bigger than just that particular area,” Gaffney said.
Members from the Office of General Counsel and City Administration explained it would be possible to get that money moved out of the CRA and into the general fund, which the special committee could then utilize.
Overall, Gaffney said he was impressed with the conversations the committee was having.
“I look at all your priorities, and I smile when I hear real conversation on how we're going to tackle what I believe is real problems in this city,” Gaffney said.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.