The dispute, at least in theory, was over window tint.
However, what one Northeast Florida pastor experienced has brought new attention to old conflicts between Jacksonville police and African-American residents.
Rev. Darien Bolden of Fernandina Beach had stopped with his nephew on 19th Street in Jacksonville to look at investment properties. That’s when an officer expressed concerns about window tint that was too dark.
Rev. Bolden, reported the Florida Times-Union, said he had a concealed weapons permit. Inexplicably, this led to the officer pulling his own weapon and pointing it at the preacher.
Bolden wasn’t ticketed. But the confrontational encounter brought about a community response from Jacksonville’s African-American pastors and activists.
That response manifested Friday at a town hall at a church in Springfield, where representatives of various community groups congregated to address the incident in detail, and discuss its ramifications and significance against a larger tapestry of shaky relations between Jacksonville officers and African-American men.
But before that town hall began, potential policy ramifications for the JSO were in play, with Councilmembers calling for change in the department in the form of diversity training, and questions to be answered from the Sheriff regarding racial imbalances in enforcement techniques,
Before the event began, Jacksonville City Councilmen called for “diversity training” for JSO members.
Councilman Reggie Gaffney, on the Finance Committee, vowed to bring up the need for diversity training during the budget discussion this month.
“Diversity training has to happen,” Gaffney said. Councilman Sam Newby, sitting with Gaffney, agreed.
City Council Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, acutely conscious of disparities in Jacksonville, backed the play.
“I support my colleague,” Gaffney said. “He’s a man of action.”
“In the next couple of weeks,” Dennis continued, “Sheriff Williams is going to have to defend his budget. He will be on the hot seat.”
Dennis noted that Williams gets credit for the good things — and, it follows, “credit for the bad things” as well.
“He’ll have to answer questions on the public record,” Dennis noted.
Councilwoman Katrina Brown met with Sheriff Williams recently, and Williams vowed to bring evidence of current diversity training, as well as what is going to be done with the 100 new cops that are central to the budget being considered.
Brown believes that, when considering training, the JSO needs to look at “real life situations” to formulate effective training.
Ultimately, the community needs to “feel better” about law enforcement and be able to trust the Sheriff’s Office, and Brown recognizes that is still a work in progress.
Sheriff Williams told us the 100 new cops would help with community policing this week; however, Brown asserted that simply hiring more officers is “not going to make citizens feel better.”
What will work, Brown said, is “transparency.”
Brown noted that she had pushed for a citizen’s review board earlier in her term, but was thwarted, as it would lack subpoena power.
The town hall was full of fiery rhetoric, with comparisons of Jacksonville as “the next Ferguson” and fiery denunciations of the city’s budget process as it relates to padding financial reserves over infrastructure.
The Councilmembers who had committed already to civilian review boards were there listening to the ongoing harangue from pastor after pastor.
“The state of Jacksonville is not good,” said Rev. James Sampson.
After some time, Gaffney and Katrina Brown took the mike.
Gaffney noted that he and Brown had gone to a murder scene to try to investigate, and were “disrespected,” even though they identified themselves as Councilmembers.
Gaffney then suggested that change may be coming, in terms of using financial reserves for underserved communities.
“For the first time,” Gaffney said, “you’ve got four African-Americans on the Finance Committee,” who can “influence change and take some of that reserve” and use it for “real solutions.”
“When it’s time for people to show up for a meeting, we need you there,” Gaffney said.
“6 AA on City Council,” Brown said. “If we don’t receive emails and phone calls, it looks like I’m the one playing.”
“The Sheriff will be in City Council next Thursday. I urge all of you to show up and express concerns about the police department,” Brown said.
Brown vowed to continue to work on bringing resources to the community, asking for input.
“It works together when we work together,” Brown said, noting the “list of things” we’ve done to make it better.
Councilman Reggie Brown noted that, while reform is necessary, the community should police itself, citing spending money in “our neighborhoods with people who don’t look like us,” along with “awful” voting records.
“We are 30 percent of the city,” Brown said, “but we act like we’re 3 percent.”
Brown suggested a “plan,” and perhaps a boycott of one business (“the hair supply store,” he said hypothetically), to show what concentrated economic power can do.