JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There was a step forward Wednesday night in the search for answers to community concerns about recent civil unrest and protests over racism and policing in Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville Human Rights Commission hosted an online public forum with city and community leaders to discuss the problems -- real or perceived -- that led to recent protests and to develop local solutions while promoting mutual understanding.
“I think many times what you hear from our community is not people wanting to ignore the realities or the crimes, but wanting there to be an equality in how they are dealt with,” said Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr., senior pastor at The Bethel Church.
Tyant Franklin, a criminal justice student, shared his fears when he sees an officer pulling him over.
“I’m mentally prepared for the worst. I’m mentally prepared of, ‘OK. There’s a possibility I could get hurt or I can get shot,'" he said. “Some of those good cops need to hold bad cops accountable.”
Mark Rowley is the Human Rights Commission chair.
“The data appears to show a disparity in that Black males make up 52% of those shot by JSO, and 70% of Blacks shot by police are men in their 20s or younger compared to 42% of whites of the same age," Rowley said.
Rowley said what it doesn’t show is what led to the shootings -- what events or circumstances prompted officers to make split-second decisions to pull the trigger.
“When you can see similar situations that happen in other communities and the response can be different, the question has to be asked: What is the difference? Why is there a difference?" McKissick said.
McKissick was among the panelists urging people to recognize there is systemic racism that he said needs to be fixed.
“In June, 59% of those polled here in Duval County believe that racism is a systemic issue and the issues involving the police shootings that we’ve seen are not just isolated incidents but actually part of a bigger problem," said attorney Leslie Scott Jean-Bart.
But Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Director Mike Bruno denied it’s systemic.
“In regards to the systemic racism that people believe is embedded in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, it’s just not true," Bruno said. “The percentages that you’re talking about in regards to the officer-involved shootings, that’s actually under what our victim reported information is in regards to the suspect. More than 50% of the time, the victim reports to us that it’s a Black male, so there are multiple layers to this.”
Panelists said they want to continue the discussion in a respectful manner and hope it leads to greater understanding, respect and real solutions to the problem of discrimination.