Law enforcement agencies, community leaders react to Dallas shooting
Sheriff Williams says JSO working to strengthen relationship with community
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the country reacted Friday to the news that five Dallas officers were gunned down in an ambush at a protest Thursday night, local law enforcement agencies expressed their solidarity with their “brothers in blue.”
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told News4Jax Friday that officers are on high alert, but he talked with his staff about maintaining focus through the sadness after the shooting in Dallas.
"It's a tough day for law enforcement nationwide," Williams said. "This is an event by a fringe group and it really shouldn't have an impact on the discussion that we are having and the dialogue we are having to continue to build relationships in the community."
Building relationships is a key area in which Williams has helped the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office improve since last summer. He said taking time to get out on the streets and listen to people's concerns has strengthened those bonds and increased trust in the community.
"I think we have been stepping up since July. We have been reaching out to the community, meeting with everybody and anybody whenever they want and we are going to continue to do that because I think it's important for us to be the outreach, to reach out and say, 'Hey, we'd like to talk.' And we have gotten a great response from the community," Williams said. "People really support what we are trying to do. They appreciate us being in the neighborhood. And that's every community -- the black community, the Hispanic community. All across our city, we've got a good framework for building good relationships. We have to work on it every single day, and we will continue to do that."
The two officer-involved shootings this week in Louisiana and Minnesota have raised questions about what is considered excessive force. Williams said officers are trained specifically in that area.
"There's always the baseline training. As long as I've been a police officer, (that) is: only use the force necessary to overcome resistance. So I think that when you look at some of these cases, you have to apply that. And if force is used inappropriately, then there's a process in place to address that officer in actions that he took," Williams said.
News4Jax asked Williams if there was anything, as far as security or protocol, that will change for officers.
"No, nothing in particular," Williams said. "Our posture in any of those rallies is to support their rights to protest and as long as they do that peacefully, which they have been doing, we will be there again to protect their right to protest, keep them safe from traffic and that type of thing. Look, that's part of what we do. It's part of what was happening last night in Dallas. That's why those officers were there."
Williams said patrols will be at the vigils in Jacksonville Friday night to monitor and support the community as they come together.
Community leaders react
People in the Jacksonville community and city leaders said that now is the time to come together, have honest conversations about race and violence and make changes.
Ken Flowers, owner of Boss Man Barber Shop, said he hopes the shop creates a space where people can not only vent frustration, but also have positive discussions about dealing with the status quo and maybe even changing it.
"Everybody that comes in here has a brother, a father. You know, because the genre of people being killed are fathers, brothers, (it's) affecting all ranges of demographics. So, little children are feeling it. Older people are feeling it. So, the overwhelming attitude that we get is just frustration," Flowers said. "It's not just about black lives matter. All lives do matter. But it's just black lives that's being take by people who are supposed to be protecting them."
Flowers said he understands the role he has as a community leader. He said he takes the 20 minutes or so that people spend in his chair to give advice, especially to younger children.
"Be a kid. Be respectful. Be mannerable. And we pray that, you know, if you comply to whatever an officer says that we'll see you that evening," Flowers said.
Ben Frazier, with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he works toward change regularly. But he said his is only one organization.
"We need to just be honest. We need just to be real. It's not just the mayor's issue. It's not just his problem or the sheriff's issue. We're all involved here. We all have a stake. We must work together to make this disturbing trend turn around," Frazier said.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said they're also trying to improve the relationship between the community and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
"We can't let this end. And we have to continue working towards building that -- those good relationships -- and having that open dialogue. Even when we disagree, having good dialogue and working towards some of that change that can help the entire community," Williams said.
In the spirit of working together, Frazier said, one thing that would help is to have a citizens review board to work with the Sheriff's Office during investigations of alleged wrongdoing.
Vigils, prayer services held to remember victims of shootings
Local community groups gathered in Springfield Friday night to rally for change and remember Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and other victims of police killings.
Sterling was shot Tuesday outside a Baton Rouge convenience store after an encounter with two police officers. Castile died Wednesday night after being shot by an officer in Minnesota during a traffic stop. His girlfriend recorded the aftermath of the shooting, broadcasting it on Facebook Live.
Community members came together at 6:30 p.m. at the corner of North Liberty Street and East 9th Street, the same intersection where Vernell Bing Jr. was fatally shot by an officer in May.
"We know that the violence has to stop, so if you look at our signs, we say, 'Stop the killing,'" said James Evan Muhammad, rally organizer. "This is why you have these folks out here, saying, 'No justice, no peace.' But we have to know what justice looks like. So it looks like, coming to the table, sitting down honestly and helping those who have been disenfranchised."
The tone of Friday night's rally was somber, but hopeful for change.
"I might be one of the oldest people out here. So my memory goes back to the '50s and '60s when the same thing was happening, except then we didn't have cameras. We didn't have cellphones," said Wells Todd with the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition.
Todd said racism and oppression are leading to much of the violence seen across the nation.
"We have to deal, OK, with what is happening in Jacksonville and across this county, and that's institutionalized racism. And we have to root that out of our system," Todd said.
Organizers said they plan to come out to the intersection in Springfield regularly for months to come. They said violence is never acceptable.
A prayer service was also held at Arlington United Methodist Church on University Boulevard North Friday night in hopes of bringing people together.
Rev. Arlinda Burks of Arlington United Methodist Church said it's important for everyone to know they're welcome and people should lean on each other, and God, in a time like this.
"It just broke my heart. It took me back to the days in the '60s when I grew up. And I know that was not the way to be. And I just felt moved that we could come together and do something," Burks said. "We need to come together and be united as one. It doesn't matter if you're a policeman or a pastor or a student. We are all citizens of this community and citizens of the kingdom of God. And that's why I wanted to call this together."
Burks said the service was needed, not just for her, but for so many in the community.
Gary Snow attended the service after recently moving to the Jacksonville area from Chicago.
"I just moved here to Jacksonville and I'm amazed by the amount of citizens that actually support their police officers here in Jacksonville," Snow said. "They took an oath to serve and protect. And I believe it's our obligation, as citizens, to return the favor and say, 'Thank you. Thank you for going out there and putting their lives on the line for us.'"
The Lake City Police Department also hosted two prayer services Friday, one at noon at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and one at 2 p.m. at Olustee Park.
Below are statements from local law enforcement agencies and officials, reacting to the shootings:
Fraternal Order of Police
Outside the Fraternal Order of Police building on Beach Boulevard, flags were flown at half-staff Friday in honor of the officers who were killed and injured in Dallas.
"We all grieve when we lose a law enforcement officer, whether it's here locally or any place else, we all grieve," said FOP President Steve Zona. "It was a senseless act."
Zona said he has reached out to the national FOP office to see how they can provide support to the families of the officers who lost their lives.
St. Johns County Sheriff's Office
"This morning, Sheriff Shoar and all the men and women of the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office are sending their thoughts of love and prayers to the Dallas Police Department after last night's horrific shooting.
"Five police officers were killed and seven others were injured in the ambush in Dallas that began Thursday night, officials have said, in the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. Two civilians also were injured in the shootings, according to CNN.
"ALL lives matter."
Green Cove Springs Police Department
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the police officers shot and killed and wounded in the line of duty in Dallas. God bless their families, blood and blue."
Orange Park Police Department
"Five officers ... Five husbands/wives, mothers/fathers, brothers/sisters. Five officers. Five heroes who gave their life serving others. Five officers. Five servants who did not get the opportunity to face their killers. Events sensationalized by media reports, release of video before facts are known, blame being cast not at those resisting lawful orders but at those trying to carry out what they are sworn to uphold -- the law. It's time for the silent majority to make their voices heard. It's time to speak out against those few declaring war against law enforcement. Ask yourself, 'Do I want to live in a society where there are no sheepdogs?' God bless the families of those lost in Dallas and God protect those that are the peacemakers."
Fernandina Beach Police Department
"In the aftermath of the mind-numbing events in Dallas our agency has received several calls and emails from residents expressing sympathy and support for local law enforcement. We thank you sincerely for your thoughtfulness in writing and calling this morning. It has been a very difficult situation to comprehend from many legal and social perspectives. Suffice to say it now appears that misguided domestic terrorism is our new reality.
"On behalf of the men and women of the Fernandina Beach Police Department I want you to know that we appreciate your support and that we are dedicated to our mission of keeping residents and visitors safe in our community. While we mourn the loss of our colleagues in Texas, we are committed to working with community leaders to demonstrate that professional, data-driven police departments are still the best hedge against lawlessness and violent career criminals. We will not be threatened and bullied into abandoning our honorable calling. We will not back away from our duty or look the other way, as many would like to see."
Gainesville Police Department
"Our hearts are obviously with the Dallas area police agencies today. GPD is staffed by brave men and women that understand the threat of violence is very real. These men and women still suit up and come to work with the mission of protecting and serving the public. Now, our bravery is needed the most. Police around the country are obviously in a heightened state of awareness today and for the foreseeable future. But let me assure you that the level of training to our officers is superb. We can remain vigilant, but at the same time still operate with compassion to the public. We will have that heightened state of awareness, but we will never jump to unnecessary violence or rush to judgment."
Florida Department of Law Enforcement
"Our thoughts are with the men and women of law enforcement in the city of Dallas."
Gov. Rick Scott
"The violence displayed against Dallas law enforcement was a senseless and cowardly act that has no place in our country. Law enforcement officers across the nation bravely put their lives on the line every day in order to protect our homes, our communities and our families. We join all of America in mourning these fallen heroes and praying for the recovery of those injured. Just as Texas stood with Florida following the Orlando terror attack last month, Florida will stand with Texas during this unfathomably difficult time."
U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia
“As Americans we have lived through a week of horrific and senseless violence. We mourn for the victims, pray for their families, and stand with the brave women and men working to protect our communities.
“In the face of tragedy, Americans have always stood united. It's now time that we come together as a country. For too long we have let ourselves be driven by our differences. Now, we have the opportunity to focus on what we agree upon and regain that spark that makes our country different.
“It's time to counter tragedy with compassion, hate with love, and frustration with patience. As we move forward, our communities, large and small, can foster and influence a peaceful dialogue on how to heal and move forward.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump canceled a planned speech Friday in Miami after news broke of the shootings, which came during a demonstration protesting shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Trump had been scheduled to speak at 2:30 p.m. at a Miami hotel on the topic of "Succeeding Together." But his campaign announced Friday morning that the trip to Florida had been canceled and also issued a statement from Trump about the shootings.
"Last night's horrific execution-style shootings of 12 Dallas law enforcement officers -- five of whom were killed and seven wounded -- is an attack on our country," Trump said in the statement. "It is a coordinated, premeditated assault on the men and women who keep us safe."
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