City leaders propose multiple bills to stop messages of hate, antisemitism in Jacksonville

Bills would ban projecting messages on buildings without owner’s permission

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City leaders in Jacksonville are making moves to ban the projection of images onto someone else’s buildings or property without permission.

Two bills have been filed in response to a series of hate messages — the most recent a swastika and an outline of an antisemitic cartoon apparently displayed on the CSX building over the weekend during the Jaguars’ game.

The image was seen in a photo that was circulated on social media.

“We’re taking away a tool that has been used both very recently here, and in the past in Jacksonville. And so that’s one less tool that people have to express hate,” said Adam Chaskin, CEO of the Jewish Community Alliance. “This unto itself is not going to stop it, but it’s a step in the right direction. And it’s an action statement as opposed to just words.”

Sponsors of the measures said they won’t impact anyone’s right to free speech because the ban isn’t on any particular message, just the medium or method through which that message is carried.

The bills would make it a crime to use a laser, projector — or any other kind of equipment — to project unauthorized signs, messages or text onto the side of a building, vehicle or any other property without permission of the property owner.

City Council President Terrance Freeman, Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff T.K. Waters and other city leaders announced new emergency legislation during a news conference Thursday. And City Council members joined with faith leaders to announce a similar proposal at CSX, where one of the hate messages was displayed. (WJXT)

The bills would include a $2,000 fine and up to six months in jail on a misdemeanor charge. Also, any equipment or vehicles used to break the ordinance could be seized by the police.

They are designed with “content neutrality” — blanket-banning the projection of all unauthorized images — not specific ones.

“This is a content-neutral bill — means you can’t project anything on the side of buildings without the ... owner’s permission. That’s a content-neutral bill. Totally fine under the Constitution. That’s why we built it that way,” Councilman Rory Diamond said.

While the measure doesn’t expressly mention the Jewish community, the proposed legislation is a result of antisemitic messaging.

In 2022, messages of hate started appearing in Jacksonville yards. A few months later, the messaging took a turn.

During the Florida-Georgia game, a message was projected at TIAA Bank Field and another building downtown.

The message focused on antisemitic statements made by a rapper.

“Now it’s clear that this is a repeated attack on Jacksonville to keep doing this over and over again. We have to stop it,” Diamond said. “So, putting a swastika on the side of the building downtown, just totally unacceptable.”

City leaders made their position clear on the antisemitic rhetoric, which was a universal condemnation.

“As you all know, antisemitism is as old as time. This is nothing new. But we need and we must find every legal avenue to stop it,” Council member LeAnna Cumber said. “We are going to call it out for what it is. And we are not going to allow this to happen in our city anymore, period.”

Cumber, who is currently running for mayor of Jacksonville, led a group of City Council members and faith leaders at CSX Thursday morning to announce a bill that she filed Sunday.

And City Council President Terrance Freeman, Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff T.K. Waters and other city leaders announced similar emergency legislation during a news conference at City Hall on Thursday.

“It won’t change the hearts and minds of those who spew hate. But it will, however, set a clear and common sense guardrail,” Freeman said.

So, while there appears to be complete agreement on what needs to get done, it seems there is a political squabble over who gets credit for accomplishing it. That squabble, some supporters say, could undermine the entire point of the measure.

The bills are set to be voted on during Tuesday night’s board meeting.