JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in more than 10 days of protests in the streets of Jacksonville, the city’s mayor and sheriff walked side by side with demonstrators Tuesday morning.
Mayor Lenny Curry told hundreds gathered to march with Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette from Jacksonville City Hall to the Duval County Courthouse that he was listening to their voices. The crowd cheered when he told them he ordered the Confederate monument in Hemming Park removed overnight and said “more change is coming.”
“We’ve got to find a way to come together," Curry said. "We’re not going to agree on everything -- that’s just not human history, human nature. We’ve got to find common ground.”
AS IT HAPPENED: Watch News4Jax coverage of march
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and many of his officers joined the short walk to the Courthouse. There were chants of “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” signs supporting Black Lives Matter and no trouble.
“I understand the anger and frustration. I hear you and I’m going to walk with you,” Curry told the crowd. “There are a number of issues: body cams, economic opportunity, infrastructure -- it’s a long list.”
Saying all people needed to be at the table, Curry said he was going to introduce legislation to bring together the sheriff’s office, the state attorney, the public defender, the City Council, the mayor’s office and “independent voices from the community” to address the issues.
“I’m not here to talk about politics, anything decisive. I’m committed to find common ground,” Curry said.
The sheriff, whose department has been the target of some of the protests, said he was encouraged by the cross-section of people who turned out Tuesday.
“Leonard reached out, and that’s why we’re all here,” Williams said. “We have challenges in this city that we need to continue to work on. I’m standing here before you to tell you that I will always listen to the community and I’ll continue to work with the community. That door has been open and it will continue to be open.”
Curry had turned down a request to join a march on Sunday organized by City Councilman Garrett Dennis and others, one of many locally and across the nation calling for an end to racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Curry said he felt he would be a distraction for law enforcement and could put others in danger if he marched over the weekend.
He said he would walk at a later date, then accepted Fournette’s invitation to join his march on Tuesday.
“I’m happy to see back and whites out here together,” Fournette said. “This is bigger than me. This is bigger than football. We’re going continue praying, coming together, doing what we have to do for our kids -- the next generation. Black lives matter. Keep fighting you all.”
Demonstrators were pleased to see the city’s leadership join them, but want to see more than a symbolic change.
“Policy changes have to be put in place. The police, they need to be reformed,” demonstrator Jaja told News4Jax. “Why is it our brothers, aunts and sisters and cousins are getting shot because they are holding phones? They need to start monitoring how their detectives and their police deal with people of color. If they have issues, they need to pull them right away from the streets.”
Dozens of people were arrested during the first two days of protests in Jacksonville, most for misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly or trespassing. Public Defender Charlie Coffer announced Tuesday that he was working to get those charges dropped.
“Have already had communications with (State Attorney Melissa) Nelson,” Cofer said. “We are trying to go through them to see what we can do to have those charges dropped and I think that’s going to be appropriate in many of the cases.”
Among the demands of protestors and organizers, from the NAACP, the Jacksonville Community Action Committee and the Northside Coalition are the release of body-worn camera videos showing police-involved shootings and for the creation of a citizen review board with subpoena power.
“I’ve heard directly from the sheriff. I know he is working with the state attorney for them to come up with a process and policy that will expedite,” Curry said of the body-cam issue.
Tuesday afternoon, State Attorney Melissa Nelson released a letter saying the sheriff’s office is “legally prevented from releasing body-worn camera footage prior to any administrative hearing of a shooting (involving an) officer, which happens after the conclusion of the criminal investigation.”
Nelson added that while the video can’t be released prior to the investigation, her office is working to create a policy creating a specific date when such video can be released.
Investigations of the first two cases where officers involved in fatal shootings were wearing body cameras are expected to be completed soon and those videos will be made public.