JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just two days after state Sen. Audrey Gibson and state Rep. Tracie Davis announced that they would ask the state for help patrolling Jacksonville's streets, the two lawmakers sent a joint letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis requesting just that.
In the letter, dated Feb. 20, Gibson and Davis, both Democrats representing Jacksonville in the state Capitol, called on the governor "to act immediately by activating the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida National Guard to assist local law enforcement."
Citing the nearly two dozen murders this year in Jacksonville and the city's recent spree of deadly violence, the lawmakers said, "The situation in various communities in the city has risen to a crisis of monumental proportion. To stem the onslaught of death and gun violence in Jacksonville, we are calling on you to act now utilizing all resources at your disposal, to include the deployment of state resources and requests for federal assistance, to aid in the emergency our city faces."
The letter goes on to say, "We are a city in a 'State of Urgency' emergency. We cannot sit on the sidelines allowing crime to continue to take over our city, risking the safety of the citizens of Jacksonville."
On Monday, Gibson, Davis 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.
"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 told News4Jax on Monday. "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."
A spokeswoman for the National Guard told News4Jax on Thursday that the guard has two roles: to help the nation in times of war and to help states by protecting residents. She said guardsmen are trained to help support local law enforcement.
But the request to call them in would have to be made from the county to the Department of Emergency Management. That has not happened yet.
If the National Guard is called in, the guardsmen would work in a support capacity with the Sheriff's Office or FHP taking the lead.
Sheriff Mike Williams said right now, he is not asking for help, and Mayor Lenny Curry called the request from Gibson and Davis a political ploy.
Gibson told News4Jax by phone on Thursday that she had not heard back from the governor, and neither the mayor nor sheriff has contacted her.
"I feel it’s a needed and important step, but certainly they’re the top cop and mayor of the city," she said. "The mayor hasn’t reached back to me yet at the time of this phone call, so I’ll take it from you that’s what was said ... (It) doesn’t mean I shouldn’t offer suggestions as a leader."
Later on Thursday, News4Jax interviewed Curry, who said he was not going to respond to "a specific request."
"What I can tell you is I'm not going to give voice to people that are against additional police officers, that are against the overtime that I've approved that the sheriff is using to make sure we have a safer city," the mayor said. "I'm not going to give voice to their request to militarize our city. It's just not going to happen."
There has been mixed reaction from Jacksonville residents regarding the request that the National Guard help police patrol the city's streets.
"You mean to tell me they plan to bring the National Guard to Jacksonville and have soldiers patrolling the street? Aren't police supposed to be doing it?" said Northside resident Walter Collin, who later added that he supports anything to help curb violence.
But, Abdul Robinson, who was caught up in the recent gun violence, said Wednesday that he doesn't believe that would work.
"I think just as well as them talking about bringing the National Guard in and all that, it’s going to be a challenge," said Robinson, whose son was killed in a mass shooting last month. He was also injured.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, weighed in while in Jacksonville, saying he’s against federal troops patrolling the streets. Calling in the Guard shouldn’t be dismissed, though that may not be the answer, either, Rubio said.
"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."
DeSantis and representatives from emergency management have not yet responded to requests for comment.
Mayoral candidates respond to state lawmakers' request
In addition to Curry's response, the request by Gibson and Davis has garnered reaction from other candidates for mayor.
City Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche, a Republican mayoral candidate who was at Monday's news conference, sent the following statement on Thursday:
As described in this week’s Cure Violence presentations, the City of Jacksonville is facing a “public health crisis” in the Curry crime wave. I appreciate Senator Gibson’s and Representative Davis’s call for immediate and drastic solutions to stop the violence and bloodshed in our community. Absent our public health crisis and assuming the 180 officers Mayor Curry has hired are on the streets, I am not in favor of additional policing because we cannot police our way out of crime. What the community really needs is a continuous and sustained investment in our children and our neighborhoods to enable the entire community to take an “all hands on deck” approach to driving down crime, starting with a meaningful investment in Cure Violence."
Jimmy Hill, Republican candidate for mayor, issued the following response Thursday to the request to activate the National Guard and Highway Patrol to assist Jacksonville police in patrolling the streets.
I have heard from several citizens, mostly veterans that have concerns with the Posse Comitatus Act and others that have issues with costs related (to) FHP use versus other resources. This seems like a major escalation and I have personal concerns with this action, especially after spending a lot of time yesterday with people in the community affected. This seems very unorthodox and seems to be escalating beyond the actual situation. Unless there is a piece of information that law enforcement is not sharing with the public, if that is the case, I would understand. However, if not, this is a significant overreach."
Before Gibson and Davis sent the joint letter to the governor on Wednesday, mayoral candidate Omega Allen on Monday sent the following email to News4Jax:
The Senator stated that we're in a state of emergency. The Democratic Party is not in position to make recommendations when they did not recognize the importance of positioning a candidate to tackle the issues facing us as a community. Issues unaddressed become problems... problems unaddressed create emergencies... neglected emergencies yield epidemics. 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.
"NO, I do not think we need outside help. We need to take care of our own by addressing the the ISSUES that underlie the problem...Economic Development and Community Policing Policies."