JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4Jax I-TEAM has obtained internal emails showing what was happening behind the scenes at Jacksonville City Hall before signs were posted in the building, telling visitors they cannot go to certain areas without permission.
Public records show that on Sept. 9, Mayor Lenny Curry’s chief administrative officer scheduled a meeting about “public property” in his office with city attorneys.
A few days later, records show, an attorney for the city texted his colleague asking for a meeting Monday, saying, “We have a task assigned.” Also included with that text is a screenshot of a newspaper letter to the editor criticizing a protest that took place outside City Hall a few weeks back. The Northside Coalition of Jacksonville had gone to the mayor’s office, demanding he follow through with a promise to remove the city’s remaining Confederate monuments.
The writer of the newspaper letter is Seber Newsome, who’s a frequent counter protester at Confederate demonstrations. In the letter, Newsome suggested the protesters who went into City Hall should have been arrested, going on to say, “I think me and some friends will do this with a megaphone and with Confederate flags and sing ‘Dixie.’ If arrested, we will sue for discrimination.”
The next morning, one of those city attorneys got an email saying from a colleague saying they had learned the Northside Coalition was planning to protest at City Hall again on Tuesday.
He forwarded the email to another city attorney, saying, “Ok now it is an emergency. Please see me asap.”
Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition, said he feels targeted.
“It says that they were directing these signs at a Black-led organization and at a Black community organizer,” he said.
In an email thread with the subject line “Signs (city hall protests)” that was marked “high” importance, city attorneys traded notes on drafts of signs, which warn people not to go upstairs.
“It’s just wrong,” Frazier said. “These signs are in effect a vicious and vile attempt to prevent the citizens from exercising their rights.”
In an email, the city’s director of public works directs the chief of public buildings to have the signs up by noon on Tuesday -- the date of the most recent protest.
News4Jax requested a comment from the city. A spokesperson said there was an exchange between members of the administration and OGC to determine what existing options were available to prevent the disruption of city business.