JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For drivers exiting the Mathews Bridge and heading onto Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, it's hard to miss "APARTMENT SHOOTINGS" plastered on a nearby billboard.
The faux bullet-riddled advertisement is for Batts-Daniels Law, an Orlando-based law firm specializing in personal injury cases and criminal defense that has a satellite office here in Jacksonville.
Neighbors first noticed the signage a couple weeks ago. But those who spoke Tuesday with News4Jax said they believe it casts their Eastside community in a negative light.
Barbara Jones said the billboard, which caters to victims of shootings at Jacksonville apartment complexes, tells passersby that the area is dangerous and crime-ridden.
"It's just like all the apartment shootings are happening on the Eastside, but you won't see that billboard over in Mandarin," she said. "You don't even hear half of the stuff that goes on over there on the news."
Multiple attempts on Tuesday to reach one of the firm's partners were unsuccessful. A receptionist told News4Jax all she could say was that the sign is meant to be a resource for victims of shootings.
The advertisement appears to be linked to one of the firm's areas of practice: premises liability. Duval County court records show the firm began filing lawsuits related to apartment shootings/assaults in 2016, four of which were homicide cases.
While apartment complexes don't appear to be any more or less prone to gun violence than anywhere else, they're not immune either. In fact, there have been three shootings at Eastside apartments in the past year, according to News4Jax records.
For instance, a man was killed in a shooting this month at the Franklin Arms Apartments on Franklin Street. In August 2018, a man was shot at the nearby Eastside Villas Apartments located on the same street. And in February 2018, a man was killed in a shooting that unfolded at the same complex.
Rev. Dr. L.C. Pressley Jr., the pastor at New Palmer Grove Full Baptist Church, said crime isn't just confined to one spot. "It needs to be taken down because that is targeting this area as being a crime area, and we got crime all over the city of Jacksonville," Pressley told News4Jax.
Pressley said even if the same billboard was posted in other areas, that wouldn't make it right.
"It wouldn't make it better, 'cause what we have is a sad society the way we (are) now with teenagers, and we're trying to send something positive -- not something negative," he said.
A viewer told News4Jax after this story aired that there is a similar billboard on St. Augustine Road at University Boulevard West.