JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Records show gun violence in Jacksonville continues to disproportionately impact the Black community at an alarming rate.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, in 2017, there were 116 homicides. Of those, 80 victims (68.9%) were Black and 34 victims (29.3%) were white.
In 2020, there were 141 homicides. Of those, 110 were Black victims (78%) versus 30 white victims (21.2%).
Maurice Hobbs was one of those statistics in 2017.
“Maurice had just turned 18, two days before he was shot. January 26, 2017, was the day he began to live through me,” Latasha Hobbs, Maurice Hobbs’s mother, said.
Hobbs was driving to pick up her son when he was shot and killed.
“I made a wrong turn, and moments later, shots rang,” Hobbs said. “I often struggle, maybe had I just went straight and not turned right, he would still be here. It’s a struggle. I’m his mother, I live and breathe for my children. It’s my duty. It’s my job to protect, my children. I feel like I failed him. I do. I feel like I failed him. It’s a pain that never goes away. The what-ifs are always there. What could I have done differently?”
Hobbs has a message for those who murdered her son.
“Those responsible for harming my son, they might have forced him to transcend, but they never took his life. I have to love him to life, Zac. That’s how I survive. Still no arrest, but my faith remains solid. I have a great relationship with my team of detectives.” Hobbs said.
Throughout the past four years, Hobbs has taken action within the community.
“I found a purpose in my pain, and I am committed, I am dedicated, serving my son justice through the work I do for him, and to also help elevate voices of violent crime, other families that are still fighting, for justice and seeking peace in our community. I want to do everything I can to keep guns out of the wrong hands, to help prevent gun violence. I want to help press the issue of community investment, good quality education, community love and infrastructure because all of those factors, they are all contributing factors to gun violence. I want to be that hope, I know how it feels when gun violence knocks on your door, leaving you completely lost, not knowing which way to turn, I want to be that person to help provide that guidance, to show them love and be that light,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs visits the spot where her son was killed several times a week.
“At least every two days or three days, I never go seven days without coming here,” Hobbs said.
Carrie Hall is Maurice’s aunt and a local law enforcement officer.
“I was in my patrol car, and the alert tone had went off. The dispatcher had begun to broadcast that there was a shooting on Agave Road. As a police officer, there’s a lot of time, we hear the police tone go off and we hear shootings go out, but this one was different, something about that call was tugging at my heart, that I felt, it was different, it was someone I knew, I cared about and I had to come to the scene,” Hall said.
Hall joined Hobbs at the site along Agave Road today, four years and one week to the day after Maurice was murdered.
“Coming here today, still tears my heart apart, as it did four years ago. It doesn’t get any easier, it doesn’t get any easier. I think for me, it’s more on a personal level, being a Black woman, and having my nephew murdered in the streets of Jacksonville, I take it more on a personal level,” Hall said.
Hall said it’s time for a change.
“Where I want change in our community, I want responsible gun ownership. I think if the community gets as mad, as we do, as families of violence, we can make a change in Duval County,” she said.
Miles away, on Jacksonville’s Eastside, Kim Varner Sr. stands at the spot where his then 25-year-old son Kim Varner Jr., also known as Desi, took his last breath in September 2015.
“He ran this way, trying to get behind the car,” said Varner, a retired JSO officer with 26 years on the force, 18 of them spent in narcotics.
“They took my best friend from me, my oldest boy was my best friend,” Varner said.
Today he takes to the streets to encourage people to put the guns down.
“I walk the streets to honor my son. I walk the streets. I lost one son to the graveyard, now I lost one to prison, so I am really in a bad place right now. I am missing both my boys,” Varner said. “You need people hitting the block. I don’t need no money from the mayor. We have all these churches in the hood, every Black neighborhood has a ton of churches in it. We have a ton of liquor stores, but we have a ton of churches. If these ministers get out from these churches and start walking these streets, that will help it right there.”
Unable to pray bullets away, the voices of the streets are praying through their feet, in hopes of putting an end to gun violence.
Hobbs and Varner work with several different groups throughout Jacksonville that promote prevention and intervention in ending gun violence.
Hobbs’s murder remains unsolved.
Varner said the people who killed his son, ended up victims of gun violence themselves. He said one remains at large.