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Jacksonville fights for police accountability

By Christina Kittle |
August 4, 2017
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Jacksonville, FL - In Jacksonville, Florida, the first Wednesday of every month is a time for art and community celebration. The city’s monthly Artwalk is a hub for artists, activists, families and residents to gather and share plans for the future of Jacksonville. While there are multiple campaigns currently taking place in the city, there are two that have gathered a mass following in just about a month since launching - the Jacksonville Community Action Committee(JCAC) and their push for police accountability, and TakeEmDownJax, the movement to remove Confederate statues and rename schools, streets, and parks honoring such figures.

Activists and local artists began setting up in downtown Jacksonville at about 4 p.m., August 2, despite inclement weather. JCAC and TakeEmDown shared the same street, both causes petitioning and handing out literature. One project that engaged with the JCAC was a news station had a project where in which they encouraged people to fill out a sign that read, “I Love Jacksonville because,” followed by a brief explanation of their answer. Local activist David Schneider seized the opportunity to spread the word about the movement in Jacksonville by responding with “I Love Jacksonville because of activism and the people’s movement,” and encouraged people watching to get involved. Alongside TakeEmDown and JCAC, there were also tables for sex education and feminism. The street acquired the name ‘Activist Alley’ for the night.

JCAC asked that people understand the necessity for police accountability through community control of the police. TakeEmDown provided a historical reference point regarding the racism that still affects the relationship between institutions of authority and the people in Jacksonville, as well as the rest of the Deep South. It was a fluid exchange of knowledge that, when guided carefully enough, could arm the people with the tools necessary to understand the depth of each issue.

Though there was overwhelming support for both campaigns. “Over 100 signatures,” JCAC leadership member Michael Sampson II reported, and there was a standing room only turnout for the TakeEmDown press event. There was also strong opposition.

The exact affiliation of the reactionary opposition was unclear. However, it was quite evident how they felt about the issues being presented by the activists. Sara Mahmoud, a local activist for Palestinian liberation as well as leadership member of the JCAC, and her younger sister, the youngest member of the JCAC, faced intense harassment for being Palestinian. “I had folks looking at my Queer Palestinian Empowerment Network (QPEN) pin and start calling me a ‘Palestinian PLO terrorist’ and ‘Palestinian whore,’” she recounted. The police were of no help to her and her sister, rather, when they approached her sister, they threatened to arrest the 14-year-old activist.

“I know these people [the opposition] are crazy, but we [organizers] can’t let that kind of stuff just happen to people and then say ‘well, he’s just crazy’- it deflects the severity of the situation. We will need to work on that,” said Mahmoud.

Around the time of the TakeEmDown press event, at 7 p.m., a group of about 20 counter-protesters waving confederate flags, Stars and Bars with a Thin Blue Line, and CSA flags marched down activist alley, protected by the police, chanting “USA! USA!”

Maria Garcia, local activist with Coalition for Consent and TakeEmDown leadership member believes the opposition helped illustrate why activist movements in Jacksonville are so dire. “Although we had opposition, mostly middle-aged white ‘patriots’ trying to disrupt the press conference before and during the actual event, we were successful in getting our point across and engaging the public. I think they helped illustrate why Jax needs to ‘take em down’ perfectly. So, thanks, racist creeps!”

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