As Jacksonville officials look for answers and policy changes to address local racial inequality issues, the City Council is forming a new Social Justice and Community Investment Committee.
Incoming Council President Tommy Hazouri made the announcement during a public meeting that included Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, State Attorney Melissa Nelson, and several other city officials.
“I believe that we are entering a new era of enlightenment for our city,” Hazouri said. “And we can all be proud of what we're going to do, and what will have been done.”
The committee will have seven council members, and will be co-chaired by Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson and Councilman Matt Carlucci.
Hazouri said he wants the committee to commit to addressing three areas: social injustices, law enforcement, and economic development, which will include infrastructure, jobs and education.
“What we are focused on is eradicating the vestiges of systemic and institutional bias, which really reflects uncoded, maybe racism and social inequity in Jacksonville,” Priestly Jackson said.
Many other council members who were in the meeting voiced their support for the new committee.
“I think that we're on the verge of doing something that we have certainly needed to do for a very long time here in Jacksonville,” said Councilwoman Joyce Morgan.
Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman said people in her district have somewhat given up on the City Council making substantial progress.
“I feel that this council is ready to stand in the gap and ready to do the work and roll up our sleeves and do what it takes to make it happen,” Pittman said.
Councilman Garrett Dennis said that the conversations that will be had in the committee will be uncomfortable and tough, but much needed.
“These next few months, they aren't going to be easy,” Dennis said. “We want a Kumbaya moment, but we're gonna have to peel off all the dirty and the filth, and the things that’s been going on for all these years, in order to get to the root and start afresh.”
Over the last couple weeks, Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber said conversations between council members have been “a little less respectful,” and she would like to see them keep the peace.
“I think that the only way that we can really serve the city is of all of us can approach this in a non-accusatory but listening mode and talking mode and be as respectful as possible,” Cumber said.
After the meeting, Priestly Jackson tweeted “it doesn’t work for me if you attempt tone policing of me under the guise of respectability.” No one in particular was tagged in Priestly Jackson’s tweet.
It doesn’t work for me if you attempt tone policing of me under the guise of respectability...to minimize my arguments & understanding of Jax’s discriminatory history & present. For 53.5 years I have lived my intersectional identity as an African American female...
— B.A.Priestly Jackson (@Priestjax) June 10, 2020
To start the meeting, Curry, Williams and Nelson made remarks on what they are planning to do to address racial inequity issues.
Curry said he will be introducing legislation in July that will bring together Jacksonville’s “decision makers and representatives” with other voices from the community. Curry hasn’t been exactly clear on who those other voices would be, but he told WJCT News on Tuesday he’s spoken to leaders of the peaceful protests over the past week and a half, such as Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition and Isaiah Rumlin from Jacksonville’s NAACP chapter.
The mayor also mentioned the need to invest in every council district. He said since he’s been in office, he’s drastically raised the amount of spending on infrastructure.
“There’s a lot of work to do when you've got decades of infrastructure that was neglected,” Curry said. “But we got to continue to find those dollars, and invest in every neighborhood [and] make sure that we are listening to your voice.”
Councilman Aaron Bowman brought up the possibility of a gas tax to fund economic growth in those underserved areas.
“We may need to raise taxes - yes, I said raise taxes - to get done what we need to get done,” Bowman said.
Sheriff Williams said there is going to be an ongoing conversation with the community to improve relations, but said JSO has a “great record” for progressive policies in place.
“We're looking at new technologies, we're taking new steps, we're reversing policies from years ago that we know not to be effective and so, we've been doing a lot of that work,” Williams said.
JSO has come under scrutiny from protesting organizations surrounding a lack of transparency, like the releasing of body camera footage from police shootings. Williams stated last week that body camera footage on a police shooting will be released soon.
On June 15, Williams will give a presentation to the council, updating them on body camera footage.
Overall, Hazouri said he wants the changes the council and city officials make to last.
“What we do must transcend every new council and every new mayor,” Hazouri said.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.