Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry promised June 9 to take down all the city’s Confederate monuments and said he will introduce legislation creating a formal advisory group to address racial inequities.
He spoke during a protest organized by Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette.
Curry made the announcement on the City Hall steps in front of hundreds of peaceful protesters in Hemming Park, where city crews removed a 121-year-old Confederate statue overnight.
“There’s more work to come. But yesterday, there was a Confederate monument in that park. It’s gone,” Curry said. “And the others in this city will be removed as well.”
A city spokesperson said in an email after the protest that crews will remove the two remaining Confederate monuments and eight Confederate historic markers. City officials did not set a timeline to take down the remaining monuments.
Fournette, a New Orleans native and four-year Jaguar, told protesters his biggest fear is his children one day being stopped by police officers and possibly killed.
“This is a big step for all of us. I’m glad to see blacks and whites out here together doing it. This is a wonderful thing,” Fournette said. “I didn’t grow up being racist, or my parents teaching me racism, but we’ve gotta stop that s--t. That s--t is bad, man. We’ve got to.
“(We’re) doing what we have to do, coming together to have a better generation for our kids. The next generation. Black Lives Matter. Let’s keep fighting y’all,” Fournette said.
The demonstration and march through Downtown was part of the wave of nationwide protests against racial inequity in reaction to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Floyd was an unarmed black man who died May 25 in police custody after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said it was Fournette who reached out to city officials to join the June 9 march.
Curry said his bill to City Council will formally convene “independent voices from the community” with his administration, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, State Attorney’s Office, City Council and Office of the Public Defender to guide policy decisions related to racial equality.
“We hear your voices, we have heard your voices on a number of issues: body cams, economic opportunity, infrastructure. It’s a long list,” Curry said. “We need everybody at the table that can make these decisions. Your voices need to be heard, but the decision needs to be made by the people that can make them.”
The protesters marched through the Downtown streets June 9, circling Hemming Park to the Duval County Courthouse and back.
The mayor told the Daily Record during the march that he wants more input from the community before releasing details of how the formal policy advisory group will operate.
He said issues, including more timely release of police body camera footage, are “on the table.”
“We know the agencies need to be at the table that make the decisions. But we got to make sure we find a way to get the right voices that are independent of my office or any other office,” Curry said.
Curry’s acknowledgment of the two weeks of protests against racial inequity and police brutality sparked by Floyd’s death drew reaction from the crowd gathered at City Hall.
Chants of “we ain’t through” and “no justice, no peace,” interrupted Curry’s announcement.
“I hear you, I hear you,” Curry said.
Curry said in an interview while walking in the march that he intends to continue JSO funding in his annual budgets to provide resources to the local police.
A debate by some local and federal lawmakers, including the Minneapolis City Council, on disbanding police departments or redirecting money to social programs has gained traction in recent days, CNN.com reported June 9.
“I think we need to always be evaluating ways to get more money and dollars into economic development and prevention and intervention kids programs,” Curry said.
Republican National Convention
When the march reached the courthouse lawn, Curry spoke to the media and demonstrators against the backdrop of the chant “No RNC,” referencing Curry’s push to bring the Republican National Convention to Jacksonville in August.
In a May 26 tweet, the mayor offered VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena Downtown as an alternative site for the convention after President Donald Trump publicly expressed disapproval with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. Cooper said the Republican National Committee would need to scale back the presidential nominating convention to allow for social distancing because of COVID-19.
Curry told news reporters June 9 that he “hasn’t heard anything” from RNC officials on relocating the event to Jacksonville and declined to speak further.
“I am not here today to talk about politics, political parties, I’m not here today to talk about anything divisive,” Curry said. “We’ve got real problems in this community and people are not going to agree on everything, but I am committed and focused to finding common ground and common cause to issues that matter to people.
“Making sure that moms and dads know, black moms and dads know, that when they wake up, they’re not worried about what happened to their sons last night.”
Council member Matt Carlucci, who participated in the march, said June 9 he supported the mayor’s decision to remove the Hemming Park statue.
“I think all of this is happening the right way at the right time,” Carlucci said. “We’ve got to change in Jacksonville, and this is the time to do it. Strike while the iron’s hot. There will, obviously, be some people who are not happy. There will be a lot of people who are happy. But we’ve got to get past this chapter.”