JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a four-day spree of deadly violence in Jacksonville, elected officials announced Monday that they will ask the state and possibly the federal government for help patrolling the city's streets.
"I believe our streets are filled with blood and tears," state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville said. "I believe that the funeral homes -- no disrespect to them or any deceased person -- the funeral homes are the biggest business in Jacksonville right now. I am so over it."
Gibson, state Rep. Tracie Davis, Pastor R.L. Gundy and others gathered in Elizabeth Powell Park, where four people were shot Thursday evening. Two of those -- one a 14-year-old boy -- died. Three more people died in separate shootings Saturday and another man died after a double shooting Sunday morning. According to Jacksonville police, only one of the five deadly shootings has been cleared by an arrest.
"Our city, I say, is on fire. Let me tell you what this is not. Our press conference is not about blaming law enforcement. Our press conference is not political posturing. That is not why we are here. The community is outraged," Gibson said.
Gibson said it's time to declare a state of urgency, if not emergency. She said she will be asking the governor to bring in the Florida Highway Patrol and maybe even the National Guard or federal government to help patrol the streets of Jacksonville.
"I don’t have a problem calling out the National Guard. I am not interested so much in having armed guardsmen on every corner, but we need to have a bigger presence in this city -- whatever that looks like. I know some people will want to be a little bit jittery about that, but we are not safe," Gibson said. "Bringing in the Guard is certainly an option."
It would not be the first time that has happened in Jacksonville. Twenty-seven years ago, the National Guard patrolled the highways because of random sniper attacks along the interstate. That led to the national news referring to I-295 as the "highway from hell."
Gibson also presented the idea of a stricter curfew. Currently, those under 18 have to be off the streets by 11 p.m. during the week and midnight during the weekend.
Not everyone was in agreement with those ideas. Ben Frazier, with the Northside Coalition, said nothing should infringe on civil rights.
"There is a need for us to do something in the short term. Yes, a curfew might be a good idea. But before you start bringing federal or state troopers on the streets of Jacksonville, we need to have a little talk first," Frazier said.
Gibson also called on the mayor and Jacksonville City Council to immediately release funding for after-school and prevention programs that already exist.
"We have multiple studies on the shelves collecting dust that already tell us what we need to be doing. We should implement that and we have to put money behind it," she said.
Gundy said Jacksonville used to have the best juvenile justice strategy board in the nation, but it needs to be refunded.
"There's a reality that's going on that nobody is really paying attention to," Gundy said. "Our children's blood is crying from the ground. We've got to figure out how to change our streets from battlegrounds to playgrounds.”
Davis added: “Now is the time to stop the crime that's plaguing our city because our residents of Jacksonville deserve better and our children need us."
Faith leaders at Monday's news conference said they are planning a huge community meeting, which will be held later this week.
Barry and Heather Sanders and their six children live across the street from Elizabeth Powell Park, where Thursday night's shooting happened. The Sanders said they're getting help not from police or city leaders, but from God.
"(Police) suggested that we move. They said it is not safe here, but it is safe to us. It's home. That's where God placed us," Barry Sanders said. "Until He tells us to move, we are not leaving."
With the high number of deaths in such a short period of time, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Homicide Unit had to call in a backup team over the weekend to help investigate the crimes.
After each incident, police asked the public for help with information on the shootings and to help identify the gunmen. Anyone who may know anything that could help is asked to call the JSO at 904-630-0500 or, to remain anonymous and perhaps be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS (8477).
Candidates for mayor, sheriff respond to state lawmakers
Over the weekend, the four candidates on next month's ballot for Jacksonville mayor each either spoke out or released statements about the violence, ranging from blaming the incumbent for his inability to reduce violent crime, condemning using this as a political issue, questioning the administration's claim that there are more officers on the streets or saying that economic issues are the underlying cause of violence.
Monday's news conference garnered even more reaction from candidates for mayor and sheriff.
Democrats Gibson and Davis, who held the news conference, said it was not a political event. However, the state lawmakers stood between a Tony Cummings, a Democrat running for sheriff, and Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche, a Republican mayoral candidate, at the event. Each of them offered support to the idea that Jacksonville’s crisis is "urgent."
"Something's got to happen. What we're doing right now, we need more," Brosche said. "Everyone feels the pain -- families and mothers who are losing their children. I would think that the entire city believes we're in a state of emergency as it relates to crime."
"This violence is out of control. It spiraled out of control and I think we're fast approaching the 30 death mark and we're only halfway through February," Cummings said. "So all hands on deck approach with the community and effects to the community. So we need to deal with it."
Beyond those candidates who attended the event, News4Jax contacted Mayor Lenny Curry, who is running for re-election. His campaign sent a statement, which reads, in part:
"More important to do a political stunt press conference before actually event reaching out to engage the principles ... It’s a shame when our elected leaders are more interested holding press conference than actually taking the steps to solve problems."
In an email, mayoral candidate Omega Allen wrote, in part, "The issue is the lack of economic development in neglected areas and that's how we solve the problem. Crime is not a culture, violence is not a disease and the Republican Party is not the cure. The current administration, with its economic neglect, has been and is the virus that is killing our community."
News4Jax also contacted Sheriff Mike Williams, who is seeking re-election, for his comments, but had not heard back as of early Monday evening.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., weighed in Tuesday while in Jacksonville, saying he’s against federal troops patrolling the streets. Calling in the Guard shouldn’t be dismissed, however, Rubio said that may not be the answer either.
"They're not police officers ... that's not what they do. That's not what they're trained for. So I'd love to hear from law enforcement about whether that would be effective or helpful, and it can't be permanent either. Communities would probably be reticent to be militarized," Rubio said. "I'm not dismissing anything. Ultimately, whatever works is what we want to see happen because we have seen this uptick, not just in crime, it’s violent crime. Murders and things of this nature. And that's, you know, we've got to go after that and at this point, you've got to be open to any ideas that would work."