The COMMUNITY, the Mayor & the Sheriff

The city of Jacksonville has a long history of corrupt and racist politics. For years, the white city fathers supported a power structure that ignored the rights of black residents and even allowed them to be terrorized by white mobs. During the 1960s, the “good old boy” network was the de facto standard among those in government. Cronyism, rampant corruption and racial violence were common. One of the most stunning examples occurred on Aug. 27, 1960. The NAACP had initiated a protest to integrate downtown lunch counters. Segregationists responded by attacking the protesters. On that day, now known as Ax Handle Saturday, protestors were terrorized at Hemming Park while white politicians and law enforcement officials turned their heads and looked the other way.

Let’s fast-forward to our present political reality. A line can be drawn showing an odious connection between politics of the past and politics of the present. White public officials ignored the plight of the city’s black population back then, and an argument can be made that, by way of ineffective policies, the same is happening now. To be sure, people of color did not get their fair share of the economic pie back then, and they’re not getting it now. Shad Khan’s millions are not being split with black entrepreneurs or the black community; instead it’s doled out to yet another generation of white power brokers and a few politically co-opted and neutralized blacks. Sure, there’s some sharing of the wealth but not nearly enough money is making its way to minority advertising or marketing budgets. Worthy community causes that empower our social infrastructures, like Little League, Pop Warner teams, cheerleading squads and school bands, deserve more support.

ZIP code 32209 is a classic example of where money could be better spent. The residents of 09 are under siege, suffering the ill effects of a veritable plethora of social problems. Arguably, it would take a Marshall Plan to upgrade their quality of life. But critics say that Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration has turned its back on the residents of this ZIP code and a few others as well.

Whether they choose to admit it or not, both Mayor Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams have serious issues in their relationships with the city’s black residents. They know how to talk “at” us, but they fail miserably when it comes to talking “with” us. Neither has shown any desire to usher in a new, creative thought process. So far, both have failed to connect the dots showing the relationship between poverty, unemployment and crime. Apparently, they just don’t get it! They continue to support the same old GOP voodoo economics and, apparently, are content to maintain the status quo. All we see is a newer version of the Delaney and Peyton administrations. Curry and Williams should consider reaching out to new organizations for new ideas—ideas that go far beyond the knee-jerk politics of more police officers and fiscal conservatism as the answers to all problems.

Since his term began two years ago, the mayor has failed to announce any new measures or proposals to counter the effects of economic racial disparities, which have been outlined by several studies. The mayor could take the initiative or use his privilege and leadership to call on a predominately white Chamber of Commerce to work closer with or include more black businesses. So what has he done? Nothing! He has done nothing except rehash the same stale, outdated approaches, sitting on his “throne” at City Hall.

Let’s take a closer look at the sheriff’s outreach. Three historic civil rights organizations took the initiative and set up a meeting with Sheriff Williams in February. But even this landmark meeting failed to produce an ironclad commitment from the sheriff regarding public involvement in the development of a body-camera policy. In May 2015, the sheriff tried out a “walk through the neighborhood campaign” in New Town that paired neighborhood cops with black ministers. But it was a campaign bound to fail from the beginning—neither the cops nor the ministers could relate to the people in the community and spark real change.

The sheriff has backed away from many of the platforms he ran on. Most notably, he no longer supports public police disciplinary hearings.

He’s been widely condemned for his slippery no-shows at town hall body-cam policy meetings. (In fact, he was criticized by a majority of respondents to a recent Facebook poll.) The sheriff’s flip-flopping on campaign promises and poor communication with the people he’s sworn to protect have only intensified a growing mistrust of the JSO.

Community activists like Denise Hunt and Biko Saboteur resound the growing distrust of JSO held by many in the black community. They’ve been critical of police-involved shootings and JSO’s lack of transparency and accountability. The trust issue has been exacerbated by statistics that reveal an epidemic rate of JSO-involved shootings of unarmed African Americans. Just in the last six years, Jacksonville police officers have shot 54 people—40 of them black. Statistics like these led two community groups to file formal complaints with the Justice Department to investigate JSO for excessive use of force.

Both the mayor and the sheriff have failed to recognize the critical need for unity in our community. They’ve shown a general unwillingness to talk with those with differing viewpoints. Critics say the mayor seems to be suffering from amnesia regarding his campaign promise to stand up for “One Jacksonville.”

The African-American community is no longer the homogenous entity it once was. Some are supporting a plan for an economic boycott to force those in power to listen to their demands. While there is some disagreement regarding tactics, most local activists support results-driven and solution-oriented organizational strategies. The mayor and the sheriff will either change and institute new, effective policies, or the black electorate will be motivated and mobilized to vote them out of office.

The comments here are not made to simply criticize the respective administrations of the mayor and the sheriff. The point is that neither Curry nor Williams nor their respective managerial staffs are living up to their full leadership potential. Both have repeatedly failed to acknowledge the importance of leading the citizenry into a harmonious, productive movement. Bitterness, resentment and mean spirits should be abandoned. An honest, open, willing and cooperative attitude will be needed to break down barriers and establish positive, productive relationships. The Curry and Williams administrations should push harder to serve as bridges between the private and public sectors, as a liaison between all population segments. This constructive criticism goes far beyond issues of race. The current tunnel vision and unimaginative, stick-in-the-mud style of our present leaders must be eliminated if our city is to take its rightful place on the world stage.

Frazier is a former radio and television news anchor and current executive editor of