Jacksonville Fair winds down but controversy over sign heats up

Official: Sign banning memorial attire put up before fair; teen says otherwise

By Zachery Lashway - Reporter/anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair enters its final weekend, one posted rule has come under fire. 

A sign hanging outside Gate 1 reads, "If you are wearing memorial clothing or jewelry you will be denied entry," but that particular rule is not found on other signs or the fair’s website. 

Fair officials told News4Jax on Friday that sign was put up before the fair opened Oct. 31. But according to one teenager, the sign was only just posted Thursday, after he and his friend were asked to leave the fair last weekend. 

"If the security has rules that deny people entry, then don't let us in and then kick us out," he said.

The 18-year-old said he and his friend were kicked out of the fair Saturday because his friend was wearing a memorial chain in honor of his mother.

"There were like four officers. They approached us, and the first one told us to pull up my pants, and the second one told my friend and said, 'Let me see that,’ and he told him that it was his mom and it wasn’t even his friend, it was his mom," he said. "They told us to get out."

The teen said police gave his friend the option to put the chain inside his shirt, but he declined and they were both escorted off the property. 

"I got multiple of them (memorial necklaces) because I have been losing friends since I was 14," the 18-year-old said.

The young men are part of the grassroots organization EVAC, which helps young black men in Jacksonville change their lives.

"The rule is extremely concerning," said Amy Donofrio, EVAC founder. "My question is, if this aspect of the dress code is big enough to warrant its own sign above the regularly stated dress code, why would it not be posted on the website or social media?"

Gayle Hart, vice president of marketing for the Jacksonville Fair, said it's the fair's policy and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office enforces the policy.

"All we are trying to do is make this as safe as possible for families so there isn’t any altercation, situations of any kind of violence or anything that would insight violence or altercations," Hart said. "We try really hard to make sure that won’t happen." 

When asked about the 18-year-old's claim that the sign was only put up Thursday, Hart said that's not true. 

"I am sorry. That is not true. It's always put up," she said. "In fact, I believe it might even stay up all year."

When questioned further about a photo taken at 12:03 p.m. Thursday that shows no sign and a photo taken minutes later at 12:26 p.m. that shows the sign, Hart said, "No. I am sorry." 

Hart said there have been no issues or altercations at the fair, to which she credits extra security, JSO officers, lighting and security cameras. 

Moving forward, Hart said, there will be a discussion on security at the front gates monitoring things such as memorial attire and jewelry, but their primary focus is on weapons. 

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