Black Women Leaders in Jacksonville Call for Change After Mass Shooting

Gun Rights

Photo: Florida State Rep. Angie Nixon, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman and Florida State Senator Tracie Davis (Photos from Facebook and myfloridahouse.gov).

Rage, sorrow, frustration and a yearning for emotional healing and support. Those are the sentiments of a Black Jacksonville community mourning a racist mass shooting within its boundaries on Saturday.

“The tone is very somber. It’s somber and full of rage,” said Florida State Rep. Angie Nixon, representing the Jacksonville district where the shooting occurred. 

On Saturday, 21-year-old Ryan Christopher Palmeter reportedly entered the grounds of a Dollar General store in the predominantly Black New Town neighborhood of Jacksonville. He shot and killed 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, 19-year-old Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre, Jr. and 29-year-old Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, all Black.

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Palmeter also chased a woman through the store before firing at her and missing. 

Carr was an Uber driver dropping off a passenger at the Dollar General store parking lot when Palmeter shot and killed her. Laguerre was an employee at the discount retail store and Gallion was a devoted father. 

After shooting them, Palmeter reportedly turned the gun on himself, dying of a self-inflicted wound. 

Palmeter, from Clay County, about 40 miles from Jacksonville, drove into the New Town community to enact his deadly rampage. In the immediate aftermath, Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters announced Palmeter’s motive for the shooting after reviewing some of the suspect’s writings. 

“He hated Black people,” Waters said.

“He was just completely irrational,” Waters added. “But with irrational thoughts, he knew what he was doing. He was 100% lucid.”

Picking Up the Pieces

Palmeter’s attack has left a community reeling, an incident that will remain embedded in its collective memory for generations.

“Everything is still fresh. It’s a very emotional time for our community, especially in the neighborhood where it happened,” said Jacksonville City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman. 

State Rep. Nixon and Councilwoman Pittman spoke to The Chicago Defender on Monday about the harm this incident has caused the families of the victims and the New Town community they serve. They also talked about what is being done to help them begin healing.

Nixon said she is working to get Carr, Laguerre and Gallion’s family members connected to grief counseling and to help organize community members to take action to impact change. 

Pittman spoke of the prayer vigil where community members, city and faith leaders came together to commemorate the lives of the shooting victims. She also called for funding to help benefit the victims’ families. 

“We put out a call to action to our leaders — local, state and federal — to try to help us raise $100,000 for the families,” Pittman said. As of Monday afternoon, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had committed to providing that sum to the families, but Pittman said she hadn’t received anything yet. 

How this Racist Attack Parallels the One in Buffalo

Ryan Christopher Palmeter, the man suspected of shooting and killing three Black people in Jacksonville on Saturday (August 26) (Photo, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office).

Judging by his actions and the path he took to enact his racist, hate-fueled attack, Palmeter appeared to deliberately target his victims in the same way Payton Gendron did when he killed ten Black people in a mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in May 2022. 

Gendron targeted the supermarket in a specific Buffalo neighborhood because it was the zip code closest to his home that had the highest percentage of Black people. When Gendron initiated his attack, he wore tactical gear and used an illegally modified semiautomatic rifle.

Moreover, Gendron — a self-described White supremacist, fascist and antisemite — purportedly authored a 180-page document where he detailed the purpose of his onslaught: to terrorize all nonwhite, non-Christian people and to get them to flee the country. 

Before his attack, Palmeter had left behind writings detailing his hatred of Black people. According to local officials, he made them available to family, federal law enforcement and at least one media outlet.  

He had also legally obtained the two guns used in his rampage, a handgun and an “AR-15-style” semiautomatic rifle covered with swastikas. He acquired these guns despite being involuntarily declared for a mental health examination and placed under temporary detention under Florida’s Baker Act.

Before heading to Dollar General, Palmeter had stopped at the nearby Edward Waters University, a historically Black college. A TikTok video showed him wearing a bullet-resistant vest. 

Who Else is to Blame

While Gendron and Palmeter had designs on killing Black people, there is a belief that both men felt emboldened to act due to the normalization of racist, anti-Black rhetoric in Internet chat forums and being spouted from the mouths of prominent politicians.

Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are often included in that coterie.

Pittman and Nixon said that DeSantis’s policies and rhetoric play a role in helping to perpetuate racist violence toward the Black community. 

“This past weekend was an example of those policies and how it continues to perpetuate and continue violence in our community,” Pittman said. 

Nixon was unequivocal, believing that DeSantis’s politics contributed to an environment that encouraged Palmeter to engage in his violent rampage.

“I don’t mince my words ever,” Nixon said, “Our governor is a racist. He has had this infatuation with targeting Blacks ever since running against [former Black Gubernatorial candidate] Andrew Gillum,” she said. 

As a Republican Presidential candidate, Gov. DeSantis has campaigned against “anti-wokeness” through his Stop WOKE Act. This state law restricts how schools and workplaces can facilitate conversations around race, sex, gender and national origin. 

The governor even defended a state-mandated school curriculum that teaches kids that Black people benefited from slavery. He also redrew state Congressional maps to benefit Republicans while diluting Black Democratic voting power. 

DeSantis also authored an “anti-riot” bill so vague that anyone who shows up to a protest that can be interpreted as violent can incur a felony. This move appeared to target people engaged in protests over the murder of George Floyd. It’s worth noting that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked this bill. 

“We know what that’s about, right?” Nixon asked rhetorically. “They want to make it so hard for us to dissent, to lift our voices up and push back against the bad things that they’re doing to our communities.”

When DeSantis appeared at the prayer vigil for the victims of the Dollar General shooting, he was roundly booed by many in attendance. Even during his appearance, notes Nixon, the governor seemed evasive in addressing the attack.

“When he came to Jacksonville,” said Nixon, “He could not say, ‘I denounce this guy for killing black people.’” 

“He refused to say the word “Black,” she said, “He refused to use the term racism or white supremacy. And it’s because he cares more about pandering to a base of voters who could potentially put him as president into the White House than he does Florida.”

Another reason people are taking issue with the governor is the state’s relaxed gun laws, which was why someone like Palmeter, who was put under the Baker Act, could obtain a gun.

“We knew Florida’s relaxing of gun laws would have dire consequences, and we warned these NRA Republicans. How many innocent people need to die on Florida’s soil before we realize the true problem: access to high powered, high fire type weapons on our streets,” said Florida State Senator Tracie Davis in a statement. 

Davis added, “Because of the ease of accessing guns, three people have been executed in a bigoted act of violence. Our community didn’t deserve this trauma and neither will the next innocent person targeted in the future. Real change needs to happen now.” 

Nixon ticked off other issues that the governor either neglected to address or helped cause, such as an acute teacher shortage, rising rents and high property insurance rates.

“Instead of addressing those issues,” said Nixon, “he was asked to create culture wars because it’s low-hanging fruit for him to agitate his base and to get them riled up.” 

“But this is harming people. His policies have harmed people. And what’s so interesting now, though, is what happened on Saturday probably won’t even be taught in schools,” she said.

The Enduring Impact

Another parallel between the Buffalo and Jacksonville attacks is that they impacted stores that serve as primary food sources for members of those communities. 

The TOPS Friendly Markets in Buffalo was renovated and reopened. Still, when it was closed for two months following the mass shooting, neighborhood residents did not have access to affordable, healthy food within a reasonable distance, effectively making it a “food desert.”

Pittman said New Town, northwest of downtown Jacksonville, remains a food desert. However, neighborhood residents, including older people and college students, have come to rely on the Dollar General store for food and other perishable items, she said. 

For now, Dollar General remains closed, leaving gas stations, convenience stores and a few fast food spots as the only sources of food in the immediate area. 

To complicate the situation, the city of Jacksonville and hundreds of other Florida areas are bracing for a different sort of onslaught. 

As of Monday night, those communities are in the path of a tropical storm expected to strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane scheduled to make landfall later this week. The hurricane could bring disastrous winds, heavy rain and massive flooding.  

In the coming days, says Pittman, the plan is to get aid and support to the victims’ families and food and resources to the community.

Nixon echoed Pittman’s call for support for New Town.

She wants to take the anger that has bubbled up in the community and help her constituents channel it to enact meaningful change.  

“So I’m hoping that we are able to convert some of this righteous anger into action and to have folks take action,” Nixon said, “And to have them start going to school board meetings, going to delegation meetings and council meetings to push back against all this hateful rhetoric, but then also to demand what we really deserve and what the governor should have been working to ensure in the first place.”

“We hope to be able to use this as a moment to serve as a catalyst to really get some policies for our folks that are needed,” she said. 

The Jacksonville Firefighter’s Community Support Fund is accepting donations to benefit the families of the New Town Mass Shooting victims. To donate, visit jfrd.com.

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