Seeking answers in Florida

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Cops, Black activists frustrated

BY DARA KAM
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Race relations in Florida, where lynchings of Black men were once almost commonplace, have reached a low point as a result of a growing distrust – and outright fear – of law enforcement officers, Black activists told The News Service of Florida in a series of telephone interviews Monday.

Flowers frame the photos at the roadside memorial of the three police officers, from left, Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola, killed in the line of duty in Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday. (MARK BOSTER/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS)
Flowers frame the photos at the roadside memorial of the three police officers, from left, Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola, killed in the line of duty in Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday.
(MARK BOSTER/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS)

The tension is fed by videos documenting Black men sitting in their cars or crossing the street – some of them unarmed – being shot dead by police.

“I have not seen the kind of anger and agitation and unrest and paranoia and frustration across the board that I see now,” the Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor of Tallahassee’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church said.

Protecting themselves
Florida sheriffs are reaching out to activists in the Black community while also taking additional measures to beef up protection for their own.

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder, a former state representative who was a Miami-Dade County police officer during race riots that engulfed urban Miami in 1980, said he is exploring the purchase of “tactical rifles” for all of his deputies and holding training sessions with local businesses and schools, if requested.

Snyder met recently with a dozen Black activists, will hold a town hall meeting later in the week in a largely African-American neighborhood and is taking to social media to address concerns, he said.

But he also blamed Black activists for contributing to the tension.

‘Hateful and racist’
“I could be politically correct and say yes, we have to continue the dialogue, which we do, which I’m doing. But the African-American community must mature and deal with the reality that they have too many young Black males that are aggressive and hateful and racist themselves who are consistently making the lives of the average deputy or police officer untenable. And that’s a fact,” Snyder said.

While much of the focus has been on the growing dissatisfaction of people being policed, Snyder’s comments represent what may also be a tipping point for those on the other side of the “thin blue line.”

“If they continue shoving cameras into our faces and calling us names and agitating and trying to create anarchy in their neighborhoods, they may end up winning the day, but the people are not going to be happy with what they get,” he said.

Looking for help
Black pastors are organizing a “Solidarity Sunday” to show support for law enforcement and to “encourage the community to not turn on police officers but to turn to them with a spirit of love, unity and respect,” Holmes said.

But Dale Landry, vice president of the Florida branch of the NAACP, said Black activists are tired of being called upon by White officials to quell possible unrest.

“It starts to get ugly when that’s the only time you’re invited to the party, when they flash the ‘Black man’ light,” Landry said, using the Batman superhero phone as an analogy.

Landry said there is “a malignancy of fear spreading among Black people” about the police. He speaks about calls from mothers concerned about what might happen to their adult sons – some with sons of their own – when they travel to work or to the store.

‘No faith’
“People have no faith anymore,” Landry, a retired law enforcement officer, said. “Right now, no lives matter in police hands.”

Landry is pushing a local referendum to create a citizens’ review board to oversee policing in Leon County and is urging other communities to pass similar initiatives.

Holmes advocates for broad-based advances – better schools, doing away with predatory lending and making it easier for ex-felons to get jobs – to counter the despair in some urban communities.

“There is a feeling of hopeless, and when a person feels hopeless, they will ambush anyone, police, politicians, parents, principals, whatever,” the pastor said.

Florida was ranked number one in police killings of unarmed individuals last year, according to Umi Selah, the mission director for the Dream Defenders, a Black rights organization that pre-dates the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

‘Home to roost’
While his group does not advocate violence, Selah said the country’s foundation is rooted in violence.
“The chickens are coming home to roost,” he said. “With the amount of video evidence that we have…you see very clearly the level of violence instigated by this country. So there should be no confusion about the fact that now people find the only solution in violence.”

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who serves as the head of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said the Black Lives Matter movement – which some blame for violence against police – is “not going away.”

At the same time, Demings, who is Black, said the majority of African-Americans support law enforcement in their communities.

He urged both sides to “tone down the rhetoric” and strengthen the relationships between law enforcement and community members, including clergy.

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