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Jacksonville 19 protesters court dates pushed to Jan. 2015

By staff |
December 29, 2014
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Jacksonville, FL - On Dec. 29, a local judge delayed the court dates for several of the Jacksonville 19. All 19 were protesting the killing of Eric Garner by New York police and were arrested for blocking a major bridge. Judge Michelle Khalil granted a request by the lawyer for several of the protesters change their arraignment to Jan. 13, 2015.

During the hearing, about 15 community members and activists crowded into the courtroom on the third floor of the Duval County Courthouse to show their support. Outside, activists held a spirited solidarity picket and carried signs, “Jail killer cops, not justice protesters.”

The news came on the heels of a request by State Attorney Angela Corey's office to delay the court date for Siddie Friar, the one protester charged with two felonies. The rest of the protesters were charged with misdemeanors for obstructing traffic. As of Dec. 29, court records indicate that the state attorney has only filed the two felony charges on Friar. She is scheduled to appear in court for her arraignment on Jan. 12.

This ongoing case emerged from a protest on Dec. 8 that stopped traffic on the Hart Bridge to demand justice for Eric Garner. Garner was the African American man who the NYPD choked, leading to his death. A New York grand jury refused to indict the white police officer Daniel Pantaleo, adding fuel to the flames of a nationwide protest movement against racism and police brutality.

Police seized every phone, camera and other storage device from the 19 bridge protesters after arresting them. Officers claimed they were seizing these personal belongings to use as evidence against the protesters and to identify the people who attended another protest earlier on the same day. As of Dec. 29, several phones and all cameras were still held in evidence.

The Jacksonville Sheriff Office sergeant at the scene originally told protesters they would receive verbal warnings and written citations for their offense, a misdemeanor in Florida. However, activists say the protesters were then arrested after a communication from Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, who gave the order to arrest everyone.

Local activists say that Corey's office is hoping to make an example of Friar and the other protesters. The Hart Bridge shutdown came amid a citywide campaign launched by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition demanding Corey's immediate resignation. Many of the Jacksonville 19 are active in the “Angela Corey Out Now” campaign.

Far and away, Corey's Fourth Judicial Circuit leads the state of Florida in direct commitment of juvenile offenders, most of whom are African American. From 2009 to 2013, Corey's office incarcerated 1475 juveniles in the Jacksonville area alone, compared to just 32 in Miami during the same period, according to the Florida Times-Union. In nearly four out of five of those cases, Corey threatened the juvenile defendant with being charged as an adult in order to coerce a plea deal, since adult charges carry harsher penalties.

While Florida and the U.S. incarcerate a disproportionate amount of African American and Latino people as a whole, the situation in Jacksonville is even more disastrous. In the entire state of Florida from 2006 to 2011, 52% of the male juvenile offenders tried as adults were African American, while white male juveniles comprised only 25% of those tried as adults. These inequalities alone are staggering, but in Corey's Fourth Judicial District during the same period, African American males comprised 70% of all juvenile offenders tried as adults, while white males comprised just 18%, according to an April 2014 report by Human Rights Watch.

Local activists will continue rallying support for the Jacksonville 19 throughout their court dates. They are demanding that Corey's office drop all charges on the protesters and return all belongings immediately.