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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jun. 2, 202003:40 PM EST

Curry lifts state of emergency, Council considers next steps after protests

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Council member Aaron Bowman urges the creation of a committee to address racial tension. 
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Mayor Lenny Curry lifted the civil emergency that allowed him to call a citywide curfew after Downtown weekend demonstrations, reacting to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, turned violent.

In a special meeting June 2 with the Jacksonville City Council, Curry defended declaring the state of emergency and 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew May 31-June 1.

Curry said although the need for a curfew is over, there is “still a threat,” he said. 

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department responded at 4 a.m. June 2 to what Curry called a “firebomb” at the city’s Westside Fleet Management Yard at 2581 Commonwealth Ave. 

There was minimal damage to the facility, no damage to city vehicles and the incident is under investigation, Curry said. 

He pointed to the violent act as an indicator that his administration would enact another civil declaration if threats to public safety rise.  

“I will use all the resources that we have to protect our city from those that want to vandalize and act violently,” Curry said. 

Curry said although a small group of “bad actors” vandalized public and private property and attacked police officers during the weekend protests, that violence shouldn’t overshadow the protesters that he reiterated were predominantly peaceful. 

“It’s very important that we say it, that we understand that the groups of people that came out on Saturday early, the organizers, were protesting peacefully. They were making their voices heard,” Curry said. “They had organized and worked with our sheriff on the front end. They collaborated, created and operated in a safe space and that’s their right.”

The protests in Downtown Jacksonville began May 30,  joining weeklong demonstrations in other U.S. cities to protest the killing of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck.

Curry added that the city’s COVID-19 emergency declaration expired May 31, but urged all protesters who marched in large groups over the weekend to get tested for the coronavirus. 

‘Walk hand-in-hand’

After Curry’s announcement, the special meeting convened via Zoom videoconference turned to a discussion about what Council will do next to address the concerns of protesters.

Council member Garrett Dennis asked Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Curry and his Council colleagues to march “hand-in-hand” Downtown from City Hall this week in a show of solidarity, which the sheriff and mayor declined to commit to on the call.

“We are in solidarity and right now the community and the city is looking for leadership from us,” Dennis said. “We’re not adversaries. We’re in this together. It’s our city.” 

Council member Joyce Morgan asked Curry if he intended to work with city lawmakers to mobilize the Council Task Force on Crime and Safety Reduction, which concluded its work with a final report in May 2019.

Curry did not provide specific guidance to Council during the meeting, but he said he’s supportive of any ideas and pushed back against what he called previous criticism of him not addressing the “inequities of the past” and “the broken promises of consolidation.”

Council Vice President-designate Sam Newby supported Dennis’s call to march and suggested that Council members, Curry, Williams and community stakeholders meet to discuss policy changes to address the racial inequities and law enforcement tactics raised by protesters and the black community. 

Williams will address the Council Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety Committee on June 16, Chair Randy White said. 

JSO’s unwillingness to release body camera footage in officer-involved shootings is a key demand for protesters who marched Downtown over the weekend, Northside Coalition of Jacksonville leaders Ben Frazier told Jacksonville Daily Record news partner News4Jax.com on June 1.

The Northside Coalition was one of the groups that organized the weekend protests.

Frasier told News4Jax the program that began in November 2018 lacks transparency. News4Jax reported 21 police-involved shootings since the JSO implemented body cameras.

Council member Aaron Bowman urged Council President Scott Wilson and incoming Council President Tommy Hazouri not to wait for the June 30 leadership transition to establish a committee to address racial tension in the city.

Hazouri said social injustice, economic injustice and inequity in law enforcement should be addressed by Council in the next year.

Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson echoed the mayor’s comments that she did not want the May 30 violence taking away from what she saw as an “ethno-racially diverse” group of protesters.

“They were millennial and Gen Zers who wanted us to fulfill the promises of consolidation and a truly just society,” Priestly Jackson said. 

“It’s not just the legacy of consolidation, it’s a real-time impact on the outcome for young people, partially African Americans in a city in Florida that has the largest percentage of African Americans,” Priestly Jackson said.

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