JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The Reverend Al Sharpton joined community members and leaders at Bethel Baptist Church Friday, to honor and pay respects to Angela Carr, 52, who was killed in the racist shooting in New Town late last month.
But the message delivered at the service was as much about political change as it was about the victims.
Faith leaders made it known they see the killings as part of a larger problem in Florida politics.
“A demonic Governor whose hands are filled with the blood of three victims,” said Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Senior Pastor at Bethel Church.
The Reverend Ali Sharpton didn’t pull punches during his eulogy.
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“Governor don’t make this a fight with me and you. You can beat Mickey Mouse, but you can’t beat Al Sharpton,” said Sharpton.
Specifically, Sharpton took aim at Governor Ron DeSantis’ policies on the teaching of African American History and the state’s gun laws, calling for a ban on assault weapons and rejecting what he sees as a watered-down version of Black history in Florida schools.
“Yes, this man had to have a mental problem, but mental people should not be able to easily get military-style weapons,” said Sharpton.
DeSantis has faced significant criticism since the racist killings nearly two weeks ago.
He was booed when he made a surprise visit to a vigil for the three victims, and on Thursday, he was confronted by a community member who blamed the Governor’s policies for the murders.
“Please allow me to speak my truth,” said Timothy Robinson, an Orange Park resident who attended the Governor’s press conference in Jacksonville Thursday.
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“No, no. There is the truth. There is something about the truth. It’s not – everyone doesn’t have their own truth. No. You don’t get to come here and blame me for some madman,” said DeSantis in response.
“You have allowed people to hunt people like me,” Robinson added.
“Oh, that is nonsense. That is such nonsense,” DeSantis responded.
Sharpton countered the Governor’s defense during the service and argued DeSantis and Republican leaders created an environment that allowed for the racist killer to claim the three lives in New Town 13 days ago.
“Don’t say you’re not responsible for one deranged man. You’re responsible for deranged people being able to get military-style weapons,” said Sharpton.
After the service, we asked Sharpton how he sees the state overcoming division.
“Your state is the focal point of the nation on hate crimes. Discuss that,” said Sharpton.
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Florida passed a law earlier this year prohibiting messages of hate from being broadcast on buildings and criminalizing the dissemination of hateful fliers left on private property.
The state also raised the age to purchase a gun to 21 after the Parkland shooting and implemented some red flag laws.
But Sharpton argued there are still policy prescriptions that have been left on the table that could have prevented the racist killings last month.
“Background checks and the availability of military-style weapons. There is no reason civilians need to be able to have a military-style weapon. You do not need that to defend yourself,” said Sharpton.
Sharpton also said he hopes to hold a National Hate Crimes Summit in Florida.
He said he hoped it could act as the spark that ignites nationwide reform on gun laws and culture wars.
“How did we get this far in the first place? We Blacks couldn’t vote. Blacks couldn’t ride the front of a bus. When people came together, they changed those laws,” said Sharpton.
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