More than a dozen black Jacksonville-area pastors are calling on city and state officials to take steps toward eliminating racial inequalities.
The group publicly made their positions known outside of the Duval County Courthouse Monday morning.
“This will not be just a press conference,” said Pastor John Allen Newman. “One of the things that happens when people protest is there's a cry from the streets. Individuals or people whose ears have been muted all of a sudden get clarified and there are conversations taking place, calls being made, initiatives being sought after.”
The pastors want the following actions to be taken:
- A formal statement from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams condemning the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd.
- Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson to review the arrest of Minister Delanie Smith on May 31, who they said was “attempting to promote peace and order during the protest.”
- The immediate release of body camera footage surrounding the police shooting of 22-year-old Jamee Johnson, and other footage of police shootings, regardless of whether it benefits the case of the JSO officers or the victims.
- A diverse Citizens Review Board to provide oversight of investigations of complaints made against JSO and “foster respect, transparency, trust, and accountability between JSO and the community.”
- The State Attorney’s Office to recuse itself in any case where a police officer is the defendant.
- More diversity and cultural sensitivity training, with a special emphasis on implicit bias, black culture, and structural racism. Also, providing more stress and mental health management for officers.
- A published report comparing the percentage of black JSO officers by position and rank, compared to the number of black people in Duval County, along with programs to increase the number of black officers.
- Roundtable discussions with black officers where they can “speak truthfully without the risk of negatively impacting their career.”
- An independent review of police officer disciplinary records, with a focus on officers with multiple offenses.
The calls for action, co-signed by 16 pastors and bishops, is intended to reach local leadership in Jacksonville; including Curry, Williams, City Council President Tommy Hazouri, Superintendent Diana Greene, and Chamber of Commerce President Daniel Davis.
The list was also sent to State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
The pastors said they have detailed plans for every one of the actions outlined.
“It's important for us to understand that truth cannot be on a sliding scale,” said Pastor Gary Williams. “The truth is just the truth. And if you don't think that there is an injustice, that there are inequities that take place in our country, then all you need to do is just look at what happened up the road, from Jacksonville, Florida, in Charleston, South Carolina.”
Williams referenced the Charleston Church shooting in 2016, when a white supremacist opened fire on African Americans attending a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nine people were killed, and the shooter was convicted of multiple federal hate crimes and murder charges.
After the killer was caught, police bought him a whopper meal from Burger King.
“Which is $6.49,” said Williams. “Three weeks ago, a man died on the streets in America. He was not asking for a whopper. He was not asking for a snack pack. He was not asking for a two piece and a biscuit. He was asking for something that is free to every human being that is born in this world. He was just asking to breathe.”
Williams also said there needs to be more conversations with Duval residents on the potential of the Republican National Convention coming to Jacksonville in August.
“Talk to people first,” Williams said. “If you go to the doctor, one of the things that the doctor is going to ask you. Where does it hurt? You can tell the doctor where it hurts. The first thing to do - I believe - the men and women who have been in these streets, that you have heard their cry, you've heard them. Talk to them first.”
Pastor John Allen Newman said the city needs to repair the damage it’s made since Jacksonville’s consolidation in 1968.
“They broke that contract in 1968,” Newman said. “[They] expect us to just continue to say, ‘Well, that's the way it is.’ No more. We are together.”
Newman also said that while it’s been difficult to get into communication with their congregations due to the spread of COVID-19, their plan is to tell the people they lead to vote.
“If we don't vote, it is all for nothing. So believe me when I tell you that is on the forefront of the minds of every pastor you see behind us.”
Curry tweeted he was going to introduce policy initiatives in response to the outcry for racial equality and police accountability as well as participate in a walk this week.
I will participate in a walk next week with our community. I will also announce policy initiatives and actions I will take to bring our city together and address racial inequality.
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) June 5, 2020
Ben Frazier, president of Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition, said he’s still waiting to hear from the mayor and other city officials for a formal discussion.
“The mayor’s saying he's going to do something, but that ‘something’ does not involve them listening or taking feedback and input from members of the community,” Frazier said. “We're talking about community engagement. And right now, the mayor, the sheriff and the state attorney, are getting failing grades in terms of community engagement.”
Frazier said if he doesn’t hear from officials soon, his organization will begin petitions to get them out of office.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.