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After police crackdown, activists rally Jacksonville community to bond out protesters

By staff |
June 5, 2020
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Marching against police crimes in Jacksonville, FL.
Marching against police crimes in Jacksonville, FL. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Jacksonville, FL - Community activists who led a historic 3500-person protest for police accountability in Jacksonville are meeting brutality with solidarity.

Members of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee (JCAC), one of the main groups that organized the May 30 demonstration, say they have raised about $80,000 from hundreds of small donors for their Community Support Fund. That fund, formed this past weekend, has helped the JCAC post bond for over 30 people arrested during a sweeping police crackdown on protests.

JCAC members sprang into action not long after their event ended in the early evening of May 30. As the enormous crowd of thousands left the protest to return home, about 100 people remained. Some continued to march. Others began walking back to their cars. Before long though, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) moved in, clad in riot gear, and began launching canisters of teargas at the small crowd. Clashes broke out as police beat and arrested dozens of people.

The next day, May 31, smaller protests that were held outside of the Duval County Courthouse and nearby Klutho Park faced similar treatment by JSO officers, who shut down peaceful protests and arrested demonstrators who committed no apparent crime.

In a press conference on the weekend’s protests, State Attorney Melissa Nelson said that nearly 80 people were arrested by JSO over the weekend.

Those arrested ranged in ages from 18 to 80. Although Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams quickly blamed ‘outside agitators’ at a press conference hours after the arrests, they admitted two days later that 23 of the 25 protesters arrested on the evening of May 30 were Jacksonville residents.

Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams were quick to paint all the protesters arrested as violent.

But video footage of these incidents, along with the actual arrest reports paint a different picture. The vast majority of those arrested were only charged with unlawful assembly, a misdemeanor offense often used by police when they can’t figure out how to criminally charge a protester in custody. Video taken of the May 31 courthouse protest shows police running up to people and initiating contact, punching and kicking one man in particular until he collapsed.

Joshua Parks, one of the founding organizers of the JCAC, argues that rather than keeping the peace, the Jackson Sheriff’s Office actually initiated violence at this weekend’s protests.

“We condemn JSO’s violent crackdown on hundreds of unarmed peaceful protesters on Saturday,” said Parks. “Instead of allowing protesters to peacefully disperse, they arrived with military grade riot gear and began brutalizing innocent people. They fired tear gas on people who were clearly walking back to their cars to leave. We think those officers should be held accountable.”

Meeting brutality with solidarity

Within minutes of seeing images of the brutal police crackdown on May 30, Jacksonville Community Action Committee organizers set up a GoFundMe campaign online to fundraise support for those arrested or brutalized by the cops.

“We know it’s important to stand in solidarity with those whose civil liberties have been violated by the JSO, like the teargas and excessive force used on peaceful protesters,” said Rachel Duff, an organizer with the JCAC. “Our organization fights for freedom for our communities, so when we saw the JSO’s crackdown on Saturday, we knew we had to take a stand.”

The JCAC calls it the Community Support Fund. Duff said that hundreds of people from around the United States have donated to the fund

“It’s been an incredible showing of support from the Jacksonville community,” said Duff. “It shows that people have a high level of trust in the JCAC to use and disperse the Community Support Fund to directly support people in need. We’re an organization of the people, by the people.”

Activists from the JCAC worked through the nights of May 31 and June 1 making contact with family and loved ones of those locked up, posting people’s bonds, coordinating their release and reaching out to legal counsel.

As bonded-out protesters trickled out through the day, one or two at a time, they expressed relief and gratitude for the JCAC’s efforts.

“They have been very grateful that there are people on the ground supporting them,” said Parks. “Not only were their civil liberties infringed upon when they were arrested, but many people were illegally detained after they had posted bond. Upon release people are telling horrific stories of JSO’s brutality and many are traumatized from their relatively short stint in the deplorable conditions of Duval County Jail.”

Double-jeopardy detention and bail manipulation: JSO abusing its power?

In his comments above, Parks was referring to a disturbing, unconstitutional reversal that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office tried on June 1, in which many people who had posted bond were detained without further cause.

As soon as organizers became aware of it, the JCAC launched an emergency call-in campaign to the Duval County Jail. Hundreds of people around the country made calls and demanded jail administration end the unconstitutional detention. Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office operators answering the calls became increasingly irritated and juvenile with callers, with some imitating machines or hanging up mid-sentence. Between the public pressure and intervention by some supportive lawyers, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office relented and those people who had met bond were released.

Another equally troubling incident came to light on June 1. JCAC organizers and community activists noticed that bail for certain protesters had inexplicably doubled from the original amount set. For some, bail more than tripled.

“Bail was originally set at $750 for most of them,” recounted Duff. “Then we noticed on the Duval County Jail website that it had risen to $1500. It got as high as $5000. We were posting bond for people, and in the blink of an eye, it would skyrocket upward. And when we posted the new amount, it rose again, like someone didn’t want these people released.”

JCAC acted as whistleblowers on this obvious abuse of the already questionable bail system in Duval County. They alerted lawyers and local news outlets, like News4Jax, which investigated and confirmed the Duval County Jail really was raising people’s bail - sometimes multiple times.

Parks saw this as the latest example of deep, structural problems with the criminal injustice system in Duval County.

“When I became aware that the jail was raising the bond for protesters, I wasn’t surprised,” said Parks. “Jacksonville is run by an oligarchy of corrupt gangsters. It simply made it more evident that the city’s issues span far beyond JSO. There is an entire political regime that must be held accountable for the injustice they inflict daily on the people of Jacksonville.”

Community action

The Community Support Fund’s success thus far is the result of a Herculean effort by the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, other community activist groups and supporters from all over Duval County and beyond.

As of the evening of June 4, 47 protesters had gotten bonded out, according to Monique Sampson of the JCAC. The group says they hope to see more protesters released in the coming days and plan to offer additional assistance for those who need it.

“More will get bonded out in the coming days,” said Sampson. “It’s taken days to even get this far because of difficulties identifying inmates arrested at the protest. But this campaign has brought the Jacksonville community together to answer police brutality with solidarity.”

Sampson told Fight Back! that several attorneys had reached out to the JCAC to get in contact with protesters facing charges, with at least one attorney offering to work on ten people’s cases pro bono.

Some local businesses have supported the Community Support Fund too, said Sampson. Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, a Jacksonville-based coffee chain, donated 100% of their profits on June 3 to the fund. Some bars, restaurants and entertainment venues have offered the use of equipment or facilities for future events around police accountability.

Community control of the police and next steps

The JCAC plans to announce future actions in the coming days. As this uprising against police crimes continues across the country, Parks and Duff say the Community Action Committee will continue to fight for both justice and community control of the police.

“It affirms our position that community control of the police is the only way for the people to fight back against the lawlessness of JSO,” said Parks, referring to their call for an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council with the power to investigate police misconduct, subpoena evidence and discipline or fire officers found guilty.

“It’s the only hope that people, especially Black and working-class people, have at living a dignified life. More than ever, the events of the last week show that police relations are not improving but worsening,” Parks continued.

The Jacksonville Community Action Committee has called for a protest outside the Duval County Courthouse on Saturday, June 6, beginning at 2 p.m. and culminating in a march to the state attorney’s office nearby. The protest will call on State Attorney Melissa Nelson to drop the charges on the protesters arrested and brutalized by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office; to release the JSO body camera footage from police-involved shootings, including the six this year alone; to jail killer cops; and to stand up to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s bullying.

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