A Jacksonville Dollar General was the scene of a mass murder and shooter suicide Saturday, with four people dead, five years to the day after a mass shooting at a video game tournament at the former Jacksonville Landing, and one day short of 73 years from Ax Handle Saturday, a day on which White marauders attacked Black shoppers downtown.
Yet another day will live in infamy.
“All of the deceased victims are Black,” said Sheriff T.K. Waters at a press conference Saturday afternoon, at which Mayor Donna Deegan and other local and regional officials were on hand.
“Plainly put, this shooter was racially motivated and he hated Black people,” Waters said. “He wanted to kill n——. That’s the one and only time I will use that word.”
As Sunday dawned, the outrage spread.
Democratic Sen. Tracie Davis, appeared on MSNBC’s The Katie Phang show Sunday morning, said that the blame goes beyond the shooter. Phang noted her emotional state and Davis said it’s “absolutely devastating” that Black people are being targeted for their skin color in 2023.
“The state of Florida has to realize that we as a Legislature have put policies in law that have incited behavior like this,” said Davis, who is a Jacksonville native and represents the city in Tallahassee. “That’s what I truly, wholeheartedly and personally believe.”
The shooter, who was from Clay County, used a Glock and an AR-15 with a swastika on it, Waters said, calling it a.”dark day in Jacksonville’s history.”
Mayor Deegan described herself as “heartbroken.”
“So many times, this is where we end up,” Deegan said. “This is something that should not and must not happen in our community.”
President Joe Biden has been briefed, and a representative from the FBI at the press conference said the incident was being investigated as a hate crime.
Sheriff Waters briefed Gov. Ron DeSantis, who addressed the incident from Iowa, condemning the “scumbag” who committed the murder.
“This shooting, based on the manifesto that they discovered from the scumbag that did this, was racially motivated,” DeSantis said. “He was targeting people based on their race. That is totally unacceptable.”
“This guy killed himself rather than face the music and accept responsibility for his actions,” the Governor added. “And so he took the coward’s way out. But we condemn what happened in the strongest possible terms.”
That explanation wasn’t enough for Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat who is often at odds with DeSantis.
“It’s kinda hard to believe DeSantis and his ‘condemnation’ of the shooter, when he continually pushes anti-Black policies. A white man in his early twenties specifically went to kill BLACK PEOPLE. The governor of our state of Florida has created an environment ripe for this,” Nixon said.
Other state leaders weighed in also.
“Racism, hate and violence have NO PLACE in Florida. We’ve reached out to local authorities. Thank you to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office,” said Sen. Rick Scott.
Attorney General Ashley Moody: “This is absolutely sickening. Racist attacks and violence have no place in our state or nation. I am praying for the victims’ loved ones during this very difficult time.”
“The news out of JAX today is horrific. There is absolutely no place for this kind of hate in our state. Details coming out about the shooters race-based, hate-filled manifestos are very troubling. I have spoken with Sheriff Waters to offer any support the Senate can provide,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.
“My heart is with the people of Jacksonville and the leaders there responding to this horrible act of racial terrorism. Assault weapons are white supremacy’s deadliest weapon of choice. We must disarm it and all hate-motivated violence,” added Sen. Lori Berman.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, meanwhile, blamed the GOP.
“It does not have to be this way. This is a policy choice, and whether they admit it or not, Florida Republicans have blood on their hands today because it is their white nationalist rhetoric and weakened gun laws that breed acts like this.”
Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried noted the “manifesto left behind could not have been more clear, the shooter was a white supremacist.”
“In Ron DeSantis’ Florida, Black people are being murdered because we live in a state that has refused to denounce neo-Nazi propaganda and rewritten the history books on slavery. Earlier this year, the NAACP issued a travel advisory warning people of color traveling to the state, and tonight we are reminded why,” Fried added.
“We offer our condolences to the victims’ families and stand with Mayor Donna Deegan and the entire City of Jacksonville as the community seeks answers and healing during this dark and difficult time.”
Jacksonville has dealt with turmoil for a long time, including neo-Nazi and anti-semitic displays projected on buildings through the beginning of last year. Mayor Deegan’s attempt to create a Diversity and Inclusion position has been, at least thus far, thwarted in the Jacksonville City Council budget process. Yet again, the Bold New City of the South will have an opportunity to show boldness in responding to an attack on marginalized people, one driven by race and hatred, and the world will be watching its response.
In the 2022 Session, legislation passed that forbids instruction or training that would make people feel guilty based on their race or ethnicity. Opponents saw in it an effort to whitewash the nation’s painful past of chattel slavery.
In spite of the Governor’s comments condemning the “scumbag,” Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani also faulted Florida’s atmosphere — “a deadly combination of hate and loose gun laws” — for playing a role in the tragedy.
“We need Gov. Ron DeSantis to stop with the race-baiting and culture wars,” Eskamani posted on social media. “Under his watch, Florida has become ground zero for far-right extremism and radicalization.”
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the state’s worst school shooting spurring his activism on gun control, also had strong words for the Governor and others in reaction to the tragedy. He also cited the state’s new law that allows people to carry guns without a permit, enacted by the most recent regular Session.
“Florida is a state where racism is practiced by those elected to lead, including @GovRonDeSantis,” Guttenberg posted. “Combine that with easy access to weapons and bad policy like permitless carry. The dangers and tragic reality is that this shooting was predictable.”
Florida Politics writer Anne Geggis contributed to this report.
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