JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Sheriff John Rutherford's labeling of the Black Lives Matter movement as a "hate group" during a televised debate among the leading candidates for the 4th Congressional District generated a strong reaction from community leaders Thursday.
St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure, state Rep. Lake Ray, attorney Hans Tanzler III and Rutherford are leading in a seven-way Republican race and were featured on the stage of Jacksonville University's Swisher Theater Wednesday evening.
Rutherford, who is running to replace retiring Rep. Ander Crenshaw in Washington, was asked by moderator Kent Justice if it was true that he said the Black Lives Matter movement should be labeled a terrorist group.
"Specifically Kent, what I said was they should be labeled a hate group. That's exactly what I said. And look, I stand by that. This group, if you look at the rhetoric that's coming out, marching down the streets of New York talking about frying police officers like pigs in a, bacon in a blanket or something like that. Horrible rhetoric to attack police. And then a couple weeks later, we have a couple of police officers that are murdered, sitting in their squad car? Yes, they should be labeled a hate group," Rutherford said. "Now, they may not go out and commit the violence themselves, but they certainly use their rhetoric to light the fuse."
A group of ministers and community leaders, who have been taking a stance on issues involving what they believe are racist attitudes of politicians, heard what Rutherford said and they said they believe it's an election ploy.
"Everybody has a right to be a part of, to speak with, they want to speak. So, I guess I agree that it should not be because you are part of Black Lives Matter, we label you as a hate group. I know these people are not a hate group. But those that are speaking, former Sheriff Rutherford, he never had to be profiled. He's never had police brutality. He's never had the things that young African-Americans have in our community. He's not speaking on my list, he's just trying to get elected," Pastor Frederick Newbill said.
News4Jax spoke with several supports of Black Lives Matter, who did not wish to go on camera. They said they were not surprised that a former sheriff would make that statement and that is part of the problem they face.
State Senator Audrey Gibson said the candidates need to know they are not just representing their district, but that they speak for the entire community.
"Let me just say, to me, all lives matter. It's very disappointing that a group that is trying to find solutions is labeled a hate group. That, in itself, is hateful," Gibson.
Rutherford's statement drew responses from all the candidates at the debate.
"Well, the hate groups, or any group that is, by design and rhetoric, to incite violence with a view to kill you, it should be labeled a hate group. And we should be realistic about that. And we should be in favor of the death penalty, with respect to those who commit those crimes," Tanzler said.
"The whole idea of selective enforcement through the color of your skin is horrible. And so, whether that’s selective enforcement here in Jacksonville that happened, whether you’re an illegal and you’re committing a crime, or not, or what the color of your skin, that’s just horrible and that’s wrong," McClure said.
"All lives matter, and that’s the end of the day. In terms of other organizations, it’s time for us to have a conversation, and that’s the problem, we’re not having a conversation. It’s obvious that there’s disagreements between races, and we need to work on that. We need to have that conversation," Ray said.
The debate, which aired live 8 to 9 p.m. on Channel 4 and News4Jax.com and was moderated by Kent Justice, was hosted by the JU Public Policy Institute.
Three other candidates in the 4th District Republican race were not part of this debate because they did not meet the 3 percent polling criteria required to be invited. Those candidates -- Steve Kaufman, Ed Malin and Deborah Katz Pueschel -- have accepted an invitation to appear on "This Week in Jacksonville," which will air at 9 a.m. on Aug. 28.
The winner of the Aug. 30 Republican primary will face Democrat David Bruderly and NPA candidate Gary Koniz in the general election in November.