JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville City Council early Wednesday morning approved legislation that bans any message projected onto someone’s building or property without permission.
City Council’s agenda included two identical bills that were created to address a series of hate messages that recently appeared in Jacksonville.
The most recent hate message that sparked the swift response from council members was a swastika and an outline of an antisemitic cartoon apparently displayed on the CSX building during a Jaguars’ game. The image was seen in a photo that was circulated on social media.
The response by council seemed unanimous — outright condemnation from members of the council. But the council was split over which of the two bills should pass. One filed by Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber and Councilman Matt Carlucci or one filed by Councilman Rory Diamond, City Council President Terrance Freeman and several others.
They were word-for-word identical -- setting “projections of text, graphics, logos, or artwork onto a building, structure or any other place (including public spaces) without the consent of the owner or person in control of the building, structure or space” as blight and graffiti, and making the violations a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of not less than $2,000. Any equipment or vehicles used in the crime will be seized by the Sheriff’s Office and forfeited to the city.
Notably, neither bill specifically mentioned hate speech -- and the creators say because they are content-neutral, they would not infringe on free speech. For example, a peace sign would, in theory, be treated the same as a swastika.
The bill that was passed was the version introduced by Freeman, Diamond, and Council members Ron Salem, Sam Newby, Ju’Coby Pittman, Tyrona Clark-Murray and Nick Howland. The vote was 18-1 in favor. Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson was the lone “no” vote.
She praised the council for finding unity on this topic but said the council can do more to combat hate.
“I’m going to be very clear, so we can work together and do what we want when it’s important for us to do it, but we can ignore other things for years or months? And that is not fair or just colleagues, that is not,” Priestly Jackson said, referring to the city’s failure to remove Confederate monuments.
There was a short debate before the bill was passed, which was not over the content of the bill, but how it was filed.
Carlucci argued the first one filed -- his and Cumber’s bill -- should have been the one considered.
“You know it may sound petty, but it’s about fairness,” Carlucci said.
To show unity, the council president asked to have every member’s name listed in alphabetical order on the final version.
“Our city, our council as a unified front has sent a message to the world that Jacksonville is not a place that’s going to tolerate acts like this again,” Freeman said.
“Tell the Nazis and the neo-Nazis and people who are doing this in our community and making threats to us that we don’t like them, and that we do not want them to do this on our buildings and that we don’t accept it,” Diamond said.
Council then voted to withdraw the other bill.
Mariam Feist, CEO of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Northeast Florida, said she’s relieved the city is taking action.
“We are thrilled about the emergency bill,” Feist said. “It marks the first step in saying our city will not tolerate any hate speech of any kind.”
Not far enough?
Priestly Jackson asked to have her name removed from the bill that passed.
“I want you to just take a moment to understand that’s the frustration that those, our neighbors who have repeatedly come down to talk about Confederate monuments, have felt,” Priestly Jackson said.
Local activists gathered before the meeting to send the same message.
“I think this is a big moment for Jacksonville where we’re saying we don’t want those projected, but we can go one step forward and also say we also don’t want those statues,” said Kimberly Allen with 904ward.
Allen was part of a local group of grassroots advocates and activists, spearheaded by Ben Frazier’s Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, that said “city officials should move now to eradicate all public displays of racial and cultural hatred in Jacksonville.”
They wanted not only the ban on projections on public buildings but the removal of Confederate monuments in the city.
The group includes 904ward, the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Northeast Florida, Leadership is for Everyone, Inc., and OneJax.
They drafted a statement about the issue:
We applaud all efforts to BAN the stream of hate messaging on buildings and banners in the sky. But much more must be done. We encourage members of the City Council to take a courageous stance and to now reintroduce legislation to remove Confederate monuments from public property. This action is long overdue and represents the proverbial can that has been kicked down the road for far too long! Hypocrisy is not a good look. All symbols of racism and hatred should be removed and banned in our city.
“The Confederate monuments represent racial hatred, racism and white supremacy,” said Dr. Rudy Jamison of the LIFE organization.
“With the imminent passage of proposed legislation to combat racial hatred, City Council is taking steps in the right direction but still more must be done,” Allen said. “Let’s continue to show the city, state and nation the kind of community that we are by taking another bold step to remove Confederate monuments.”
“The Jewish Federation & Foundation of Northeast Florida and the Jewish community at large condemns any action, speech or figure that conjures up or promotes hatred or bias,” Feist said.
“It’s far too much strife and division in Duval. What we need now is racial healing and reconciliation,” said the Rev. Kyle Reece of OneJax.
The council should have the political courage to remove the monuments from public property once and for all. The Council should not condemn antisemitic messages on one hand; while on the other hand ignoring the racist messaging projected by Confederate monuments,” Frazier said.