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Ax Handle Saturday: Sixty Years Later

Saturday, August 27, 1960 was a fairly normal day in post-war America--for a while, anyway. The Olympics were going on in Rome, where a couple of world records were set in swimming. The day was not intended to mark a moment in history, but that is often how history works out. Summertime in Jacksonville is always hot, but it was about to get much hotter.

The 60th anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday occurs during a summer largely defined by widespread protests over police brutality and systemic racism, protests of a size and scale unseen since the 1960s, if indeed ever in history. As a new generation of activists take to the streets, people like Rodney Lawrence Hurst, Jr. find themselves holding a sort of “O.G.” status within the movement. “Social media has escalated these murders and these instances of white American racism up to a national level,” he says, “So many folks got a chance, for the first time to see the police murder someone in living color, so obviously the response to what they say was always initially an emotional response. But it’s no different than the murders that we’ve seen over the years. The Black Lives Matter movement is just an extension of the Civil Rights Movement, which is just an extension of other movements prior to that.”

The sit-ins were organized by the local NAACP Youth Council, led by Hurst, then only 16, but sharp as a tack. That August, Hurst (who started school at just five years old) was only two months removed from graduating from Northwestern High. Though firmly centered in the present, he had already begun planning his future. Hurst received scholarship offers from a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including Dillard, Hampton, and Morehouse. He ultimately decided to attend Edward Waters College, founded on the city’s northside in 1868.

 

The political implications of Hurst’s activist work made themselves apparent almost instantly: Mayor Haydon Burns, an arch-segregationist who’d tangled with Hurst that summer, threatened to withdraw city funding from the school if it permitted his entry. Having already approved his application, the faculty stood firm, and City Hall backed down. After making the Dean’s List as a freshman, Hurst’s education was abruptly halted when he was drafted to the U.S. Air Force. Despite possessing a 1-S student deferment, and being only 17 years old, he found himself heading to Vietnam. Hurst views that as a politically-motivated decision that may have had lethal consequences, had fate taken him in another direction.

Black people represented about 45 percent of the city’s population at the time, but their actual power was virtually nonexistent. “With segregation, back in the day, the only venues that we could use to get the word out were black churches,” he says. “The Sunday after Ax Handle Saturday, we had a huge meeting at St. Paul AME Church, which was on the corner of 13th and Myrtle. It was an in-person type dispersal of information. Today, people know when there’s going to be a demonstration. Our communication was snail-paced; we had to depend on word of mouth. We had to depend on the Black press, but they were mostly weekly. There was only so much they could do without that kind of daily exposure.”

“Understand that, from the protest movements of the 1950s and ‘60s, you had an emerging Black youth leadership that came out of the movement, as you have now,” says Hurst. “I met John Lewis and Marion Barry, who was the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I met them and Diane Nash, and James Bevel, and a lot of civil rights leaders at the Saint Helena Islands, out from Beaufort, North Carolina, at a place called the Pen Center, which was one of the maybe two or three, at most, places where Blacks and whites could get together and talk about civil rights with some modicum of security. The issues are the same - the only difference is that now there is a medium to highlight it.”

This was not the first such action taken in the south. Ax Handle Saturday was only a month removed from the end of sit-ins at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, which began throughout the first week of February and continued into the summer. Those efforts bore fruit, as the lunch counter there was quietly desegregated on July 25. This gave hope to the kids in Jacksonville, who knew there was at least some chance of success. But the Greensboro cadre had strength in numbers - more than a thousand at some points - and they were also older.

Local activists had already conducted other lunch counter sit-ins on a smaller scale during the month, at places like Morrison’s Cafeteria. Those had come off without a hitch, but doing it at Woolworth’s presented a whole slew of additional complications. It was a national chain, one already associated with such efforts in the public mind. It was located at the center of downtown, where events would play out in full view of the community.

“Back in 1960, there was no networking, other than the fact that we were fighting the same enemy,” he says. “We did not check in with Atlanta and Nashville, Birmingham and Greensboro. From those first sit-ins, and as they spread around the country, we all decided that we would do something in our respective communities. All civil rights demonstrations are local.” Working with a few adult advisors, most notably teacher Rutledge Pearson and attorney Earl Johnson, the kids began to develop their strategy. “We had between 400 and 500 active members of the Youth Council,” Hurst recalls. “Our membership meetings every week, every Wednesday night, would probably total between 50 and 70 members.”

There were 84 seats at that white lunch counter at Woolworth’s, which took up a whole side of the store, on Monroe Street - Woolworth’s and J.C. Penney were the only occupants of the building. There was a common door where you could walk between them. They fronted Hogan Street; Duval Street and Monroe Street were at the sides. The only other building on that block was the Robert Meyer Hotel, which was at the rear, fronting back onto Julia Street.

The protest action was not limited to Woolworth’s, which commanded more attention due to its national profile and its connection to the earlier sit-ins. “There was Grant’s, Walgreens, McCrory’s, Kress, and a lunch counter in Cohen Bros., which was part of the St. James Building, which is where City Hall is now,” Hurst recalls. “At all of those stores, we always had enough students to cover every lunch counter. We had Youth Council members who were ready to sit in as the white customers got up and left.”

Jacksonville’s first sit-in took place at Woolworth’s on Saturday, August 13, and continued every day for the next two weeks, except for Sundays. “When we sat in on the first day, August 13, we had more than 100 Youth Council members there at the time,” says Hurst.

“We sat in at all of the lunch counters every day, from the 13th to the 27th,” Hurst says. “That white lunch counter was part of the comfort system for white people in the south. They were refuges, so they didn’t have to deal with Black folk. That reinforced who they were.” Protesters would begin by making some token purchase--a pencil, some candy, whatever--so they were recognized as customers before heading to the counters.

“We would get mail in every day at the NAACP office, and they would give you an overview, since many of these sit-ins were conducted by NAACP college chapters,” he says. “So we figured it was somewhere between 30 and 35 sit-ins after Greensboro. The difference was that those were college students.” By contrast, 95% of the demonstrators in Jacksonville were still in high school, so their efforts began during the summertime. Through consistency and repetition, momentum quickly developed, but so did resistance.

They expected some trouble. Activists were trained in nonviolent resistance. They learned how to keep their composure despite the provocations of the mob. That training proved essential for the kids at the counter; they somehow managed to keep their dignity despite being cursed at, spat on, having their hair pulled, even being hit. They knew that any physical response would be used as an excuse to escalate the attacks. Then, as now, any violence would provide the opposition with a propaganda victory, a chance to dismiss the legitimacy of the movement.

The group gathered first at Laura Street Presbyterian Church, then split into two groups. One group, numbering about 30, took Main Street over to the W.T. Grant store. The sit-in at Grant’s was fairly uneventful, at first: They sat down, the lunch counter was closed, and they left. By that point, counter-demonstrators had already begun to gather in Hemming Park. The lunch counter scene was ugly, but the worst was yet to come.

The park was mostly empty when the kids went in, but it was packed by the time they left. Word of their protest had spread, and upon exit they walked into a crowd of more than 200 white men, armed with melee weapons like baseball bats and the eponymous ax handles. These types of protest actions were often met with violent resistance, but this was new, different. They were grown men, and their victims were kids. They were outnumbered, by about seven to one, and most of them had never experienced anything like that before. There were only about 35 of them there; all of them were children, and half of them were girls. It didn’t matter.

A few agitators went in and attacked the protesters while they were still at the lunch counter, driving them out onto the sidewalk, where many more stood waiting. Resistance was futile, so the kids retreated to the Snyder Memorial Church, where they took refuge until the mob had dispersed. Things would have turned out worse if not for the brave intervention of the Boomerangs, a black street gang that took it upon themselves to help provide security for the protesters. At least 50 people were injured, and 62 arrested.

The violence was organized largely by the local KKK, which had terrorized Black people in the south throughout the 20th century. The Klan operated in the shadows, largely protected by local law-enforcement, some of whom were members themselves. In many cities, especially in the south, it was impossible to tell the difference between the vigilantes and the legitimate authorities; in some cases, there was no real difference at all. The speed with which the whites flooded into downtown that day defied any pretense of spontaneity, despite official denials of any formal organization.

It wasn’t until years later that the full, filthy truth was known. “I met an FBI informant in 2000,” says Hurst. “His name was Clarence Sears. He was assigned to the Klan by the FBI, and he wrote that on the Thursday before Ax Handle Saturday, the Klan had a meeting downtown, at one of the hotels, and they made plans to start a race war, using the sit-ins to do that. He wrote up the report and gave it to his FBI handler, who put it on the desk of the Duval County sheriff, Dale Carson, who was a former FBI person. We found out later that the report was intercepted by one of his lieutenants, who was a member of the Klan. We also found out later that the National Guard was on standby, both in St. Augustine and at Camp Blanding, so they knew that something was going to happen. But that day, downtown, there were no police.”

Much like today, the protest actions of 1960 illustrated some fundamental differences in strategy and the underlying philosophy between two generations of activists. “We didn’t share a lot of our plans with adults,” Hurst recalls. “At the direction of Mr. Pearson, we kept a lot of what we were going to do, and when we were going to do it, pretty close to the vest.” Some of the older folks thought the younger set was a bit too radical, too impatient, too reckless; they worried that blowback from their efforts could potentially undermine the incremental progress that had already been made. “The Black community was not monolithic at that time. After Ax Handle Saturday, a Black attorney said to my mother, ‘You need to do something about that boy. He’s upsetting circumstances for all of us. That’s been an age-old pushback.”

Aside from the activists themselves, there were a number of onlookers who would go on to play significant roles in local history,  including future state senator Arnett Girardeau and Nat Glover, who would become Jacksonville’s first black sheriff 35 years later. Stetson Kennedy was also there, covering the story for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s most iconic Black newspapers. 40 years later, he wrote about it for Folio.

It was the story of the year in Jacksonville, but Ax Handle Saturday was mostly buried by local media at the time. National media took note, however, particularly Life Magazine, which had been documenting the Civil Rights Movement around the country since its beginning. The riot made headlines in Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the London Times and the New York Times. Jacksonville had two daily papers at the time; the Jacksonville Times-Union was published in the morning, and the Jacksonville Journal came out in the afternoon. Both papers had reporters on the scene that day, but none of them were allowed to file stories about what they saw.

It wasn’t until decades later that the city’s official institutions finally felt comfortable talking about what happened that day. Most residents had never heard of it at all until just a few weeks ago, when the removal of Confederate statues in the urban core sparked a widespread, comprehensive reappraisal of Black history in Northeast Florida, just in time for the 60th anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday. Its commemoration marks the end of an era for the brave activists who sat in that day. By Hurst’s estimation, of the three dozen or so people who joined him at the lunch counter, less than half a dozen are still alive today. As veteran activists like Hurst prepare to take their long-delayed victory lap, they continue to lead from the front, setting the pace for a movement that will continue for decades to come.

Folio would like to thank the Museum of Science and History Jacksonville for opening the Currents in Time exhibit for the filming of this video. 

You Can't Live to Depend

When Delphine Brock finishes teaching, she sits for a few moments, alone in silence. “I just need to sit, because it’s so much. It’s overwhelming.” It is a rare but needed pause in her unending relay of meeting the critical and varied needs of her adult students.

For nearly 15 years, Brock, 64, has led a national Child Development Associate (CDA) certification course held at the Kids Hope Alliance. The class is free for local childcare workers and certification helps students earn more money, allowing them the possibility of opening their own childcare business.

It is a raise that is badly needed. Most of Brocks’ students earn between $8.50 and $10 an hour and hardly any receive benefits, such as health insurance or paid leave.

Brock recalls a former student seriously ill with pneumonia. This student was homeless and unable to work for two weeks.  Because she had no health insurance, she was forced to borrow money to see a doctor.

“When she finally came back to class, I said ‘How are you?’ and she burst into tears,” Brock remembers. “And she said, ‘When I got my check, it was two dollars. What am I supposed to do with two dollars?’”

Faced with students’ desperation, Brock does whatever she can to help. She provides food at every class and lets students take home leftovers. Her desk is stocked with feminine products, soap, and shampoo - all free for students. She even takes them shopping for necessities. It all comes out of her paycheck.

More importantly, she creates a safe space for students to open up about their challenges. “I call my class CDA Vegas, because what is shared in here, stays here,” Brock said. “Sometimes a student will start to share something with me, and they’ll stop and ask, ‘This is Vegas, right?’” It is inside this space that Brock has been able to touch the lives of students in need, like Jennifer Simms.

Simms recently opened an in-home daycare, allowing her to care for an adult son who was shot in the head.  Simms says she has yet to receive any government assistance for his acute medical needs.  Much of what she has received has been the result of Brock’s efforts, who has given him a wheelchair and a walker.

“She’s like a mother,” said Simms. “She’s there for me, no matter what time of night or what time of day. All I have to do is call or email or text.”

Over and over, students share similar stories. When student Gwendolyn Simmons was hospitalized with a chronic illness, Brock helped her stay on top of her coursework. “She would call me. She would see to it that I did not miss anything.” When Simmons needed surgery, Brock was there for her, waiting at the hospital the morning of her surgery. “She goes in the trenches for us. She prays for us. We become family to her,” Simmons said.

Brock’s commitment to her students has had a profound impact on their careers. Brandon Backmon, who works as a Family Workshop Facilitator for the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, credits Brock for his success as an educator.

“Mrs. Brock and the CDA class had an outstanding effect on both my career and life. She always reminded us that she was going to do whatever it takes to help us press forward. I teach parenting classes for fathers now, and the CDA class gave me so many valuable teaching tactics that I use today. ”

As much as she provides for her students, Brock’s ultimate goal is for them to become self-reliant. That, she explains, is where the “Plus” part of her course comes in. She weaves into the curriculum important life skills, such as money management. She has every cohort keep a journal of every single item they buy for two weeks to show them where their wages go.

“The best advice I’ve heard is that you can’t live to depend. And when you make minimum wage you almost have to live to depend. Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic wand. I can’t change the minimum wage,” Brock explains.

Nevertheless, Brock has worked real magic for the hundreds (probably thousands) of childcare workers who have come through CDA Plus. Undoubtedly, every student she teaches leaves her course with the assurance that, when her few minutes of repose are up, Brock will resume her tireless relay of advocacy and service on their behalf.

Talking Tall

Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels has starred in so many local videos that some folks call them “The Sheriff’s Reality Show.”  Daniels is running for re-election, so his intended audience for the voluminous videos is typically Clay County residents and the 6 and 11 0’clock news.   But on Tuesday, June 30th he stepped up his game. In a videoed press-release to the entire nation, the sheriff appeared to be channeling Walking Tall tough-talking cowboy, Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser.

In his 3-minute video, Daniels, much shorter than Pusser, stood in a parking lot on a hot Florida day with his round body trussed up tight in a long-sleeved green uniform shirt, heavy with badges, bars, stripes, patches and emblems from his neck to his wrists. The sheriff wore his trademark tax-payer-purchased white cowboy hat and is flanked by 18 male deputies in short sleeves.  At a time when some law enforcement officers have been condemned for excessive force, Daniels vowed some excessive force of his own. As the perfectly choreographed music swelled, he promised the nation that should Clay County have an onslaught of protesters, rioters and god-less troublemakers, he would deputize gun-toting county residents to wage war against the desperadoes…if his deputies got outmanned or outgunned.

“If you come to Clay County and you think for one second, we’ll bend our backs for you,” strongly asserted Daniels,  “you’re sadly mistaken.”

Daniels was hailed a hero by numerous national news sources. Small and large affiliates gave him resounding atta-boys. On Twitter, Ann Coulter called him “Sainted Sheriff Daniels.” He was interviewed and saluted by Fox News’ Lou Dobbs.  The sheriff had the interview, along with accolades from other news sources, immediately posted on campaign and social media sites.

Perplexed, commenters on numerous county social media sites began virally scratching their head at the sheriff’s display. Clay County’s beautiful sleepy little community has cat-napped without any incidence of discord or racial disharmony that afflicted other communities. Residents were quick to point out that their county had elected a black sheriff. Yet, it appeared to some residents that the sheriff had issued a challenge to insurgents throughout the nation to come on down to Clay County for a shoot-out and a butt-whooping.

“This wannabe cowboy is overreacting to a problem that does not exist,” said Clay County resident Martin Borum.  “Now he may have just created a bigger problem.”

Less than 24-hours after Daniels national debut, North Florida news media released some disturbing news about the sheriff, which made his video performance appear an attempt to head-off-at-the-pass the trouble he knew was brewing.

The news was that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE)  had concluded their 13-month investigation into alleged illegal actions by the sheriff which happened on May 6, 2019.   The FDLE said they were turning over their investigation to Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson.  Nelson immediately bounced it back to Governor Ron DeSantis’s Office for reassignment. Nelson said her office had reviewed the FDLE’s investigation and Clay County assistant state attorneys may become witnesses in the case against Sheriff’s Darryl Daniels.

Daniels’ legal troubles traced back to a 2018 investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JS0).  The JSO was investigating crimes possibly committed by one of their young corrections officers, Cierra Lewis Smith. During the investigation, they accidentally discovered that Smith had been working directly under chief jailer, Darryl Daniels…apparently, in more ways than one. The investigation evidenced that Smith and Daniels, who was 27-years Smith’s senior, were involved in a long-term affair. By the time they got around to interviewing Daniels in the Smith investigation, he had been elected as Clay County’s top cop and just said “naw” to a request for an interview. Smith lost her job.

According to Clay County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) investigative notes, Cierra Smith said Daniels told her news sources had obtained the JSO investigation and the affair was going to be released. He told Smith he was going to tell his wife about the affair and told his girlfriend he would “stand by her.”

The sheriff did tell his wife. However, he left out a few details others might consider important.  He was still involved in a six-year affair with Smith and she was pregnant.

 Daniels set up a meeting with his pregnant girlfriend. When he saw his lover approaching their “usual” place, he phoned his deputies and said he was “in fear for his life” from a stalker.  Deputies arrested Smith.

Officers took Smith’s statement, which described the relationship in detail. A flail began.  After six hours, someone in Daniels’ command staff finally tossed the arrest to the State Attorney’s Office, who ordered Smith’s immediate release.  The SA’s office turned the investigation over to the FDLE.

Daniels’ wife filed for divorce. Nevertheless, the sheriff called a “Town Hall Meeting” and said his wife had forgiven him, they were once again together and the rest was nobody business. (The divorce remains open in the Duval County Clerk’s office.)  His girlfriend had a son, but would not name the father. Court records show the father had the records sealed so his name would not appear on the child’s birth certificate.

After the media hoopla about the sheriff’s affair and the arrest of his girlfriend died down, the sheriff’s video productions company was born.  Within his Public Information Unit (PIU), the sheriff created a veritable marking department, complete with high-tech equipment. The goods to be marketed was Darryl Daniels. 

The sheriff hired a new workforce, including Laura Shassberger, former Bureau Chief of Northeast Alabama at WHNT News 19.  One of Shassberger’s skills was as a videographer.  Daniels “rebranded” the sheriff’s office into his own image with new logos on new vehicles and uniforms, while he sound-proofed a new office…all at a tremendous expense to the taxpayers.

Daniels new Public Information Officers earned their salaries. In the sheriff’s videos, dudes with doobies were often transformed into major drugs busts on North Florida’s evening news. When the cameras were cold, the tokers went home with little or no charges.

In January 2020, six months into his new video series, Sheriff Daniels announced he would seek re-election. He began his campaign with little money in his coffers.  Most of the donations were from people within the CCSO.  Command Staff officers said they were told they and their wives should make $1500 donations each.  Disgusted, some officers retired and some said they sucked it up and wrote checks, according to officers who spoke on the basis of anonymity with Folio. 

In fact, Clay’s sheriff didn’t really need the campaign funds; the taxpayers were already financing Daniels’ own private campaign in the office of his PIU.  His videos, neighborhood walks and public appearances ramped up even more, culminating in his June 30 Cowboy Cop video to the nation.

After the FDLE and SA’s announcement on July 2, things weren’t going so well for the sheriff in his neck of the woods. While still being lauded nationally, most of his six campaign opponents were quick to point out in the news media the numerous flaws in his plans. Legally, they said, he could not deputize citizens. Opponents said other law enforcement agencies, along with the national guard would be the first and second line of defense for any issues that happened in Clay County and labeled his proposal a call for “vigilantism.”

“If I was under criminal investigation by FDLE, I’d want to change the subject too,” said opponent Michelle Cook.

The same day, Ben Frazier, Northeast Florida civil rights activist based in Jacksonville and president of Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition, demanded an apology from the sheriff. 

“His comments are incendiary and fan the flames of potential conflict, and unrest, in our area,” said Frazier. On Friday, July 3, Ken Jefferson, a respected black retired JSO officer and the News4Jax Crime Officer, said he believed the video was an example of a free political ad.           

“I think that’s a bluff more than anything,” Jefferson said. “It sounds good on the surface. You can’t have chaos among citizens. Citizens already have the right to defend themselves.”

In his video, Daniels  said “God was absent from…Black Lives Matter.”  By Friday afternoon, Black Lives Matters (BLM) was no longer absent from Clay County. Local prophesies came true.  A white man-bunned protester showed up on the busier streets in Clay County waving a BLM banner.

Over the weekend, Daniels released a “just kidding” statement in a much less public venue to locals saying he actually couldn’t deputize citizens.

“That would be a violation or dereliction of my duties as the sheriff,” he said. “That would also be a violation of state statute.”

Still out on county streets on Tuesday, July 7th, the flag waver was identified as BLM-Clay County leader Kevin Conner.  The waver is a soft-spoken polite young father in his early 40’s.  He prefaces questions and answers with “sir,”  “ma’am,” and “please.” Conner holds a degree from the Appalachian State University in North Carolina, and built a successful online marketing and sales company in the US and Canada.  He sold the US branch last year. 

The protester told Folio that his group came together to protest in Clay County because of the sheriff’s video.  “He was essentially saying the First Amendment is not welcome in Clay,” Conner declared, “He has clearly shown himself to be a serious threat to the very thing he swore to uphold, the Constitution.”

 Conner created the Black Lives Matter-Clay County Facebook the same day.  “I think Clay County is ready for BLM,”  he pronounced.

By Wednesday the numbers on the BLM-FB had grown with people joining from Clay County, Jacksonville and numerous states across the nation.  Conner posted that he had been in Clay County and had been treated with kindness and respect from Clay County officers.

But the peace would not last.

Thursday afternoon, Kevin Conner, along with two protesters and a woman who videoed the event, were at an entrance to a local Wal-Mart in Fleming Island.  A video was taken of Conner asking a white officer where the three could wave BLM flags.  The officer is cordial and helpful and shows Conner where the trio could safely and legally stand.  The video shows the three standing in the exact place the first officer had directed, when three CCSO vehicles pull up. A large black officer exits a truck. The Officer is Emmett Matthews.

It was odd that Matthews was there, remarked several Clay County Deputies, because the retired JSO officer works for the sheriff as a Community Affairs Officer.  Matthews doesn’t typically work the streets but always accompanies the sheriff in public appearances and is often seen at lunch with the sheriff and campaigning for and with him. Deputies refer to the big man as the sheriff’s “bodyguard.”

Matthews did not appear happy.  “You know you owe me lunch, don’t you?” he calls loudly as he exits his truck.  “I got called from MY lunch, ‘cause he in the road.” 

“We haven’t done anything wrong, right?” Conner asks as Matthews approaches.

“If the first thing you say, if you say you haven’t done anything, you probably have.” calls the officer. “There are a certain set of rules, you are either going listen or else I’m going to dismiss you.”

“Yes sir.  Sir, I’m listening.  I’m listening.”  assures Conner in his typical polite manner.

“If you want to talk to me like a man, we good.” warns the officer.

“Yes Sir.  Yes Sir.” answers Conner.

Motorists wave and honk, Kevin Conner waves back.  The video shows Matthews is clearly agitated at the loss of attention as more conversation ensues. Matthews tells Conner he can stand across the sidewalk on another grassy area, but Conner said the other officer told him it was private property.

The women step back as Matthews steps closer. After more conversation, surprisingly, Officer Matthews orders Connor to put his flags on the ground, pads his pockets and orders him to give his phone to another protester.  One of the women begins to cry as it become clear the officer is arresting Conner. 

“Yes sir, yes sir.” Conner complies.  “Why are you arresting me?”

Matthews does not reply.

“Why are you arresting me? What crime have I committed? I need you, please sir, to name the crime I’ve committed.” begs Conner.

Matthews orders him to put his hands behind his back.

“I will co-operate and put my hands behind my back.” promises Kevin Conner.

“You’re gonna do that anyway.” assures Matthews. “I’m gonna ask you one more time, then it’s resisting.”

Kevin Conner backs up and puts his hands behind his back and looks around as Matthews strapped a pair of soft-cuffs on his wrists.

“Do we know what crime has been committed…anybody, anybody?” Conner beseeches as he looks around. 

According to the video, Conner was arrested at about 12:34 p.m.  He said he was handcuffed and placed in the back of a CCSO vehicle driven by Deputy V. Terry.  Conner said the car was hot as the air-conditioner was on a very low setting.  He asked for water, but none was provided. The protester said Matthews stood laughing and talking to the two other officers and to people who stopped.  Then, Matthews was out of view for a while, possibly seeking the lunch he missed. 

Finally, after several hours in the back of the Terry’s hot county SUV, Conner said Terry got into the car and cranked up the air-conditioner as Matthews lead the two deputies to the parking lot in an office building off Hwy. 17.  Conner said the officers talked for about 30 minutes, while he sat handcuffed in the car, then the three headed for the CCSO, where he was finally booked and placed in a cell.

Officer Emmett Matthews arrested Kevin Ray Conner for resisting arrest, but his arrest report does not resemble the exchange in the video. Matthews noted the time of the arrest as 1:30, an hour after the time the video recorded it. The video showed he complied with every command and request from the officer and never approached the roadside. Yet, Matthews wrote in the short arrest report the “offender” refused to obey the officer’s commands. “The offender was asked multiple times to stay out of the roadway and to discontinue to obstruct the view of the turning motorist.  Again, the offender refused and continue to walk where he was told not to walk.”

The video began to appear on news media and social media sites throughout the area.   A go-fund-me page was started to get Conner out of jail.

It appeared Sheriff Daniels may have overplayed his hand.  Just after sunrise on Friday morning, renown barrister Civil Rights Attorney John Phillips rode across the Buckman Bridge to promptly spring Conner. Phillips was stymied at the arrest:

“He wasn’t arrested for walking out into a street or an illegal protest. He was arrested for resisting an officer without violence.” Phillips explained.  “In the video, you can hear the officer say clear as day, ‘If you don’t comply, I am going to arrest you.’ He immediately puts his hands behind his back.”

By Friday afternoon, a full-fledged BLM “Silent March” had been organized in protest of Conner’s arrest and slatted for Saturday morning at 10 a.m. on the corner of a busy intersection in Clay County.  On Facebook, Conner provided a video with detailed instructions to ensure the protest remained peaceful. 

The sheriff appeared to be marshalling his forces for the march.   Photos of Daniels’ SWAT vehicles, marked cars, unmarked cars and transports lined up ready for action were posted on local social media and on the BLM Facebook. Commenters on the BLM Facebook hoped and planned for peace, however after the arrest and the police brigade waiting, they doubted peace would reign.

Gawkers, perplexed and surprised by the strange activity in their small community, watched from a distance.  A small group of “Blue Lives Matter” stood across the street. About 100 marchers came to Clay County from local burbs, Jacksonville and points beyond.  Strangely absent was a police presence.  One marked car and several unmarked vehicles were scattered throughout several parking lots around the location.

The protesters were greeted by cheers and jeers from motorists, as some registered their feelings according to their choice of finger.  The protesters marched mostly silent carrying signs of protest, many of which were aimed at the sheriff,  along  their three-mile trek.  An  airplane pulled a large banner unobscured in the blue skies over Clay.  “Make #CCSO Clean Again-Dump Daniels!”

Despite the local blow-back from his video and the arrest of Kevin Ray Conner, Daniels seems intent to fulfill his plans to become the sheriff for one more term, then mosey on up to a congressional seat in Washington. Some or all of that may happened.

His boot-scoot into the nation-wide spotlight was a brilliant piece of public relations by his PIU.  It gave him a 10-point bump in the polls.  He is now 11-points ahead of Michelle Cook, his closest competitor. Although approximately 67% of the county is against Daniels, with seven candidates in the race, it may be hard for Cook to reach the sheriff’s percentages.  Nevertheless, none of the six candidates have expressed any desire to withdraw from the race. The sheriff can win the election on August 18 with only one vote.

Still, there are several burrs in the sheriff’s saddle bag of plans. Law enforcement officers from CCSO and the JSO say the sheriff calculatingly broke the law when he conspired to have his girlfriend arrested, then facilitated the arrest.  Officers say if a deputy under the sheriff’s command acted as the sheriff did, he would already be fired and arrested. Additionally, Kevin Conner said he is working with John Phillips on a civil suit against the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, as well as Daniels and Matthews personally.

Legal experts believe with COVID-19 there is little chance a State Attorney will convene a grand-jury trial for the sheriff’s misdeeds before the August 18th election. Nonetheless, if he is elected yet found guilty of a crime, he could be arrested and/or removed.  This would trigger another election, which will be a huge financial burden for a small county in the midst of pandemic.

Although some commenters on the BLM-Facebook have called for less-than-peaceful protests in Clay County,  Kevin Conner labors for peaceful resolutions.

“I believe any significant social change requires the movement to be both sustained and peaceful.” He insists. 

Clearly, Sheriff Darryl Daniels invited social unrest into Clay County, Florida with his coast-to-coast video. BLM videos have been produced and distributed across the US, with the sheriff’s provocative remarks as a lead-in as he plays a prominent role throughout.    Marches are taking place in the county and more are coming.  No one can predict what will happen in the once tranquil hamlet in North Florida.  But one thing is certain.  Despite his tall-talking promise, Sheriff Darryl Daniels will not be deputizing the gun-owners of Clay County, Florida.

The City Destroyable

In an ill-advised move to position Jacksonville as the bland new city of the south, the Curry administration adopted the slogan It’s Easier Here. I don’t need to tell you why that’s a horrible slogan—you are reading Folio, which means you are a functioning human. 

Some cities adopt slogans that unify, like Columbus Ohio’s cheeky Columbus campaign. Or uplifting slogans, like Orlando’s The City Beautiful.  These send a succinct overarching message to visitors, businesses, and citizens. It’s Easier Here is just a lie. 

May I suggest for Jacksonville: The City Destroyable. After all, it seems that City Council is determined to allow historic buildings to be demolished left and right, even as historians and preservationists sound alarms about their significance. 

The latest building to meet its fate, Kartouche as it is colloquially called, was demolished into a pile of bricks. Soon to be an empty field, the lot may someday turn into a gas station. Kartouche, like its few neighboring buildings in LaVilla, was home to performances by Black entertainers across decades. From Ludacris and Pharrell to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, LaVilla’s storied past is being razed in favor of a corporate future. Moreover, Jacksonville’s Black history is being destroyed by its White leaders. 

While Ludacris and Pharrell may not be historic enought to warrant landmarking Kartouche, it’s hard to imagine needing to raze a building for a gas station, especially when there are empty lots throughout downtown, ready to be utilized. With the majority of its original buildings gone,  the history of Lavilla is now relegated almost entirely to plaques and the Ritz museum. 

Tourists and Jaxons alike often lament the lack of culture in Jacksonville. Those remarks aren’t always fair, but The City Destroyable is trying it’s hardest to make them true. When Curry promised on election night that we wouldn’t recognize downtown in four years, he was right. Being unrecognizable is the point. 

But don’t worry, I’ve heard there might be electric charging stations.

No Decline? Then stay online.

What started as a small Facebook group comprised of parents worried about the implications of reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic has become a collective voice of opposition. With more than 3,100 members, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team has been able to consistently share information and updates, plan rallies, and call for action.

The idea for the group began after the release of the Duval County Public Schools’ preliminary back-to-school plan on June 23. In response, Marla Bryant, a parent of an incoming DCPS, reached out to parents who have served on different DCPS task forces over the years and asked them for their thoughts regarding the plan.

“After texting back-and-forth about [the plan], we decided to do a Zoom call that Saturday morning. At that point, we decided to form the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team, launching our Facebook page that Monday, June 29,” Bryant said. “From the start, we knew that we needed to band together and get like-minded people to also voice their opinions about returning to school.”

Through this approach, the group quickly grew in numbers and has harnessed attention from local and national media outlets, as well as sparked conversation with Duval County Public Schools’ leaders directly. Now one of nine founding group members, Bryant says she recognizes that there is likely no single solution to the return-to-school issue that will make everyone happy.

“I think the DCPS superintendent and school board are trying to do the best they can to make everyone happy, but in reality, there’s no way to do that,” Bryant said. “They want to deliver school in every form imaginable, so that people who have to turn to the brick-and-mortar buildings for a variety of reasons, such as home situations, can.”

However, Bryant said the group’s worry is that the children who do need to return to the physical school location will lose out in the end as they will become the most susceptible to the virus. In addition, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team has partnered with another Facebook group formed by district teachers, Duval for a Safe Return to Campus, to help ensure their safe return to school as well.

Since holding their third joint rally last month, the latest called “A Day of Action Against Inaction,” Bryant says the group feels strongly that it has helped ignite change.

For example, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team advocated that Duval HomeRoom be extended to all K-12 students, and also urged district leaders to allow magnet school students to be able to keep their spots should they choose a remote option. Both requests were approved by DCPS. The group also had pushed for a later start date for school because of the now-cancelled Republican National Convention in Jacksonville; the district delayed the first day of school from August 10 until August 20. 

On Monday, the plan to reopen Duval County schools on Aug. 20 was approved by the Florida Department of Education.

“We’re really excited about some of the things that we’ve achieved, but there’s still more things that we want the district to do to make returning to school safe for everyone,” Bryant said. “We want 100% online instruction the first nine weeks, since our numbers [were] so incredibly high [in late July] and will continue to be over the next few weeks.”

Both groups are still calling for there to be two full weeks without any positive cases in Duval County prior to students and staff returning to school buildings and that masks be added to the DCPS Student Code of Conduct as part of the dress code violation for noncompliance.