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100 new cops for Jacksonville is not the answer

By staff |
November 8, 2017
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Jacksonville, FL - The Jacksonville Community Action Committee (JCAC) has been busy organizing this year against the city’s $4.4 million budget proposal to add 100 new cops to ‘fight crime.’ This plan leaves out any training or accountability for the already existing officers guilty of misconduct on the force – and there are too many of those to count in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO).

Jacksonville has a lengthy record of police crimes including but not limited to:

  • April 2017- violently attacking five anti-war protesters and unlawfully arresting them
  • July 2017- Failure to apprehend the vigilante killer of 22-year-old Keegan Von Roberts
  • May 2016 – Killing of 22-year-old Vernell Bing, unarmed black man shot by Officer Tyler Laundreville
  • May 2015- Killing of D’Angelo Stallworth, an unarmed Black UPS part-time supervisor
  • May 2012- Killing of Davinian Williams, an unarmed Black resident

While the list of victims of police crimes continues to grow, the JCAC found it dangerous that Jacksonville’s Mayor Lenny Curry would propose an increase in police numbers while ignoring the obvious need for accountability. The JCAC called for the community to speak out at city council meetings every other Tuesday through the summer and fall of 2017 to voice these concerns regarding budget proposal 2017-504.

The community responded in record numbers to urge council members to vote no on budget proposal 2017-504. The JCAC used this moment to also begin demanding a Jacksonville Police Accountability Council (JPAC). The JCAC explained how a JPAC differed from already existing review boards because it actually gave power to the citizens and eliminated the problems centering around internal investigations. A JPAC would mean real community control of the police and be a direct blow against the backwards set of Florida laws known as the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

City Hall seats that normally remained empty were filled by Black, brown, and Transgender young people who had never been to a public hearing before. Speakers presented data to refute the claims of the mayor which stated that the reason behind the budget increase was “to crack down on crime.”

“There has been no significant spike in crime in Jacksonville Florida since 1997,” JCAC activist and member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) Christina Kittle explained to council. “And for the areas of town where there have been notable increases in crime, there is no correlation between more cops and less crime. There is a proven correlation, however, between more infrastructure, job development, social services, afterschool programs, rehabilitation services and less crime.”

The Jacksonville’s Sheriff’s Office, in a desperate attempt to seem as though they had their ‘facts’ in order, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct their own study. This study was not planned by a statistician, but by an employee of the mayor himself. This employee sloppily put together a study which claimed the majority of black voters wanted more cops. This ridiculous report was ripped apart over the course of several city council meetings.

“A large percentage of the Black population in Jacksonville, specifically the areas that are affected by police crimes, cannot vote due to felonies and other restrictions by the very institution conducting this study. This study is not an accurate representation of what the people want,” Kittle reminded the council.

Two Black city council members were racially profiled by the police. One member was stopped by JSO officers while driving, quickly catching the attention of Councilwoman Katrina Brown who stopped to investigate why JSO had stopped the first council person. They chose to speak out against the profiling and were publicly threatened for doing so by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). FOP President Steve Zona, who spoke during public comment period threatening the council to pass the mayor’s budget, and targeting the two Black members (who were profiled) in his speech. He managed to scare one city council person into giving a humiliating apology to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, but Councilwoman Katrina Brown refused to apologize.

“The Fraternal Order of Police is using their power to strong arm and bully city council into promoting their agenda despite being proven, factually, that they are wrong. They claim to be a union, yet collude against the interest of working-class people. This is a police shake down,” local activist Michael Sampson said of the childish and desperate threats of the FOP.

Ultimately, despite a very public, very heated series of city hall appearances by the JCAC and a large number of concerned citizens, the budget passed - but not without a few compromises. The argument for more funding towards social programs was included in the budget, and money was also given to several afterschool programs in an attempt to appease the masses.

The biggest thing to take away from this series of events was that it demystified the people in power for many citizens in Jacksonville while uniting them in a fight for their own interests. It also, unfortunately, proved that doing things ‘through the system’ rarely favors the benefit of the working class. Organizers and citizens alike adhered to the rules of the city and voiced their opposition to a budget that otherwise would have silently passed, and were still ignored. The people are now more critical of the power structures at work and are still fighting to bring police accountability to Jacksonville.