JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – From a mass shooting that left one dead to bullets flying outside an anti-violence rally to three other men killed in separate incidents, violent crime has plagued the Eastside of Jacksonville this year.
City Councilman Reggie Gaffney said he has been working with police for months to get more officers around the A. Philip Randolph Boulevard corridor and he's tired of the violence.
He said he's working on the problem with Mayor Lenny Curry and the solution is twofold, starting with the Task Force on Safety and Crime Reduction. City Council President Aaron Bowman recommended 46 members for the panel last week.
Gaffney said the second solution is a program he is touting that would hopefully keep ex-felons and gang members on the job and out of jail. Gaffney said Curry backs the program, which offers a major promise: Any gang member or ex-felon who calls Gaffney's office looking for a job will get one.
“If they’re an ex-offender, if they’re out there in a gang, they need to know that the city is going to open up their arms, not going to judge them for what they did yesterday,” Gaffney said.
Mitchell Whitehead served 15 years in prison for attempted murder in 1994. He's been out for around a decade and said finding decent work is almost impossible, so he's hopeful the program can change that.
He said he sent Gaffney's office his resume and someone contacted him right away.
“I feel like I’ve paid my debt to society,” Whitehead said. “I just need an opportunity so I can support my family.”
Gaffney did not specify what jobs would be offered but said possibly city jobs or other jobs he and the mayor can match them up with. He said the jobs will not be low end employment with no possibility of advancement but will be designed to improve these people's lives.
Gaffney said he wants anyone with a criminal record or who is in a gang and is looking for a job to call his office at 904-630-1384, particularly if they live in District 7.
Representing one of Jacksonville’s most crime-ridden districts means Gaffney is facing critics and political opponents.
Chaussee Gibson has filed to run against Gaffney in District 7. He said Gaffney and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office are only concerned about the Eastside when the Jaguars are playing nearby at TIAA Bank Field.
“It’s all about game day. Game day we have so many officers out here, but throughout the week, we can barely see a police officer,” Gibson said. “(When the Jaguars aren't playing,) the community actually goes back, the police presence rides past and pretends like they don’t see nothing and keeps driving.”
But looking at fundraising numbers, Gibson faces long odds to beat Gaffney in the May election.
The Supervisor of Elections website shows seven candidates, including Gaffney, are running in District 7. Gaffney is the top fundraiser with roughly $64,000. Gibson is at the bottom with zero dollars raised, but he does have a GoFundMe page where he’s asking for campaign donations.