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City leaders discuss root of racial tension

City, community leaders aim to build culture of public trust

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mayor, the sheriff and the state attorney gathered Tuesday to try answer one question: Do we have the public’s trust?

That was the topic of an event in Downtown Jacksonville that brought together city and community leaders.

They took a look at how they could ease racial tensions and build a community of trust.

The panel hit on a lot of hot-button questions, including why racial tensions exist and whether or not they have the public's trust.

They didn’t shy away from answering those questions.

State Attorney Angela Corey started, saying it’s better in Northeast Florida than in other areas.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams agreed.

“I think that we do, especially in Northeast Florida, have a good relationship with the community,” Williams said. “We have challenges in certain areas, clearly we do.”

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said trust is earned, and his efforts to gain it start with transparency.

“My public communication is readily available, but more importantly is getting involved in the community,” Curry said. “I continue to go door to door to talk to the people.”

The leaders next tackled the question of where racial tension stems from in Jacksonville.

“I think that part of it has to be negative energy and misinformation, because we have a lot of people working together, as we’ve said, to get out the positive message,” Corey said.

Williams said the roots of racial tensions are historic, citing the relationship between law enforcement and African-Americans during the civil rights movement, and incidents like the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police in 1991.

“For everything that we do, one of those incidents completely undoes that and brings back all of those images of the past,” Williams said. “So we’ve got to do a better job of communicating, again, all the positive things we do, and then acting very appropriately and decisively in law enforcement when we have those incidents that fall into those categories. When people misuse the authority given to them by the state then we need to act appropriately and again very decisively to remove those people from our profession.”

Curry said it’s about meeting people and seeing what’s really going on in the city.

“But then the next step is demonstrating a real commitment to invest in neighborhoods and ZIP codes that either didn’t experience the recovery or frankly have just been left behind for way too long,” Curry said.

The panel answered more questions, about what’s in place to build and maintain public trust, and what the public can do to help and discussed questions to keep the conversation going, as they work to tackle serious issues.

Everyone on the panel reiterated that changing the culture is something they can’t do alone. They want and need the community to help.

That means coming out to community meetings, sharing information and just being involved, they said.