‘Frightening and shocking’: Some Black Americans fear violence after Jacksonville Dollar General shooting

When MaliVai Washington heard about Saturday’s racially motivated mass shootings in Jacksonville, Florida, his first thought was: Is it someone I know?

Washington’s foundation, which helps hundreds of Black students attend after-school homework and tennis programs, is located less than two miles from the Dollar General where three Black people were shot and killed by a white former store employee.

“The shooting is tragic and especially hit close to home,’’ said Washington, who in 1996 was the first African-American male tennis player to reach the Wimbledon final since Arthur Ashe in 1975.  

Washington said he was stunned that there are still mass murders that are “purely racially motivated…. Haven’t we evolved to a point where we’re past that?”

“It’s still frightening and shocking that in this day and age, we still have this in the United States, in my hometown, in my home state,“ he said.

The Jacksonville shooting comes as Black communities are still reeling from other racial attacks, including last year’s killing of 10 Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York, and the murder of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Some say they worry media attention and intense rhetoric may have emboldened more extremists. And they worry the racially motivated attacks, which harken back to more violent times in the nation’s history, will continue.

Renee Watson, director of the Bexar County small business and entrepreneurship program in San Antonio, Texas, said statewide efforts to resist gun control measures and restrict discussion of racism and the effects of slavery in the classroom have heightened fears among communities of color.

“As more of these incidents come to pass, people really have to be prepared in their communities,” Watson said. “It’s not just in one place. It’s not just in the supermarket. It’s everywhere.”

An undated photo provided by Sabrina Rozier shows Rozier (left) and Jerrald Gallion (right). Gallion was killed, on Saturday when three Black people were gunned down Saturday by a white man at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida.

Black Floridians worry about racial tensions 

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a historian at the Kennedy School at Harvard University in Massachusetts, said there is a long history of racial strife in Florida, and recent attacks on Black history education in public schools have further fueled concerns about equity and inclusion in Florida. 

”For many Black Floridians right now, things feel very much like they’ve not only gone backward, but that it’s a dangerous place,’’ Muhammad said.

Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida, a coalition of churches advocating for social justice issues, said many people don’t feel safe. 

“It doesn’t end at all, especially here in Florida,’’ she said. “I’ve got a lot of feelings and emotions going on when I see this repeated cycle of hate that I feel has been legislated.’’

Desmond Meade, president and executive director of the Orlando-based Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said he feels somewhat “scared” as a Black man in Florida. 

“It makes you think about the state we’re in. I mean, just to think I could be sitting in a car and someone can shoot me just based on my race, there’s definitely a heightened level of concern,” he said.

“There has to be a courageous stand taken against this,” Meade added.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was booed at a vigil for Black men killed in a shooting at a Dollar General. The sheriff said it was racially motivated.

Thomas said she’s worried the younger generation will not tolerate some of the racial violence their elders did. She pointed to Montgomery, Alabama, where mostly young Black people earlier this month came to the defense of a Black security guard who was being beaten by several white men. 

“What took place in Alabama was a spirit of liberation,’’ she said.

Thomas launched a project last month with about 200 Black churches in Florida that will teach African American history outside the classroom, including in Sunday school. “It’s on the church to teach it raw and real,’’ she said. 

‘Walking with our ancestors’Thousands fighting for civil rights attend March on Washington

Hate crimes target Black people across US

Outside of Florida, many Black people have expressed concern about the direction the United States is heading in. 

Rep. Bennie Thompson, who headed the hearings on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and served as former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the recent racial attacks, including the shooting in Jacksonville, are part of a growing trend of violence against Black communities.

“The rise is coming based on evidence from the right, in terms of right-wing extremists targeting not just houses of worship and institutions frequented by African Americans, now they moved it into grocery stores, supermarkets,’’ said Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who held a hearing last year on threats against historically Black colleges and universities. “It just continues to escalate in violence.’’

There’s data to back up Thompson’s sentiments. The Jacksonville shooting comes about a month after a new study by Tulane University researchers in New Orleans found mass shootings disproportionately affect Black victims and occur more often in U.S. cities with high Black populations, suggesting structural racism may be at play. 

Hate speech has been much more intense since Barack Obama was elected the first Black president more than 10 years ago, Muhammad said.

“There’s no question that the notion that there are groups in this society that want to protect the interests of the white Christian community has been the major driver for supremacist groups and organizations to gain adherence and more local power that has contributed to a number of issues, including the Jan. 6 insurrection,’’ he said.

Armisha Payne, left, and her mother Angela Michelle Carr, 52, one of three people killed in Jacksonville, Florida, on Aug. 26, 2023, in what law enforcement officials are calling a racist attack.

Kamm Howard, executive director of Reparations United, a Chicago-based organization, said there is no easy solution to fix racial hatred in the United States. 

“Some Americans want us to continue living in a state of fear, there’s a new wave of extremists who are bringing terror right into Black communities,” he said. “This has been building and building and there’s no short answer or quick fix to this.”

Arthur Reed, founder of Stop the Killing, an organization based in Houston that works to extract individuals from gang life and into education, said that while hate crimes should prompt caution, they shouldn’t allow Black people to become fearful.

“We cannot let it strike fear into us, because that is what it’s designed to do,” Reed said. “I don’t think we can change our daily activities because of these painful acts. We have to remain as we have and make sure we stand on the principles of America that everyone has a right to be here – including the haters.”

He noted some shootings have been committed by individuals gripped by white supremacist ideologies of the far right.

“There are people in America that have a mindset that is so sick that they believe civil war is coming,” Reed said. “Blacks could care less about that. People are paying attention to their daily lives, holding down employment and keeping a roof over their head. They’re too busy trying to survive than to plot a civil war.”

He said the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump and the lingering tensions from the Jan. 6 insurrection have fed worries and confusion among the Black community.

“Why is there this constant hate for us even after all we’ve been through?” Reed said. “We are a people that have moved on. We never tried to overthrow the government. The constant attacks are mindboggling.”

‘We have to remain vigilant’HBCU leaders ask Congress for help against bomb threats

Black business owners fear becoming targets

Some Black business owners are also worried about their safety. 

At an outreach event conducted by Watson’s business office Monday morning in Texas, business owners expressed concerns during a presentation by a Bexar County Sheriff’s Department representative about programs that could help increase security. Such worries were higher among retail business owners, Watson said, given their greater accessibility to the public.

Some Black business owners, she said, have said they feel compelled to play down their ownership to avoid attention from those who might want to do them harm.

People embrace near a memorial for the shooting victims outside of Tops grocery store on May 20, 2022 in Buffalo, New York.

“They don’t want to be a target,” she said.

Thompson noted that the gun used by the killer in Jacksonville was legal there. “In Florida, the only thing that guy did wrong was he started killing people,’’ he said.

Thompson said it’s not enough for politicians to show up at the scene of a shooting and express their sympathies and then support policies that allow people to go out and buy a gun.

“That’s not the answer,” he said, adding that, among other things, there should be more legislation reducing access to assault weapons. “For a civilized society, we have to absolutely start the movement of what we need to do to stop this assault on American citizens.’’

‘Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!’Memories from the crowd at MLK’s March on Washington

Online hate is sparking violence across US

Official statistics back up concerns that life has become more dangerous for Black Americans in recent years. 

A report issued earlier this year by national civil rights group Leadership Conference Education Fund found the number of hate crimes has jumped 80% since 2015, with FBI data clearly illustrating that such crimes spike during presidential elections.

“From white supremacist and anti-government movements coalescing and moving more into the political mainstream, to conspiracy theories circulating online and public officials amplifying hate, there are few — if any — signs that tensions will lessen,” the report read.

According to the FBI, there were nearly 13,000 victims of hate crimes in 2021, an 11.6% increase over the previous year. Black people were the most targeted of all groups, accounting for nearly 4,000 of those victims, the agency said in a revised report, with the number of anti-Black incidents rising 14% to 3,277.

As such, Blacks account for about 30% of all victims, despite comprising just under 14% of the U.S. population.

The statistics reflect just a fraction of actual incidents as many crimes are not reported, and the agency’s initial report, issued in December, was criticized for a lack of data collected as the FBI shifted to a new crime-reporting program, with slow or non-participation by law enforcement agencies nationwide. The revised report reflects data from nearly 15,000 law enforcement agencies or about 80% of all such agencies.

About a third of Black adults said they were worried daily or nearly daily that they might be threatened or attacked because of their race or identity, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2022. In comparison, 21% of Asian American adults and 14% of Hispanic adults felt similarly, while just 4% of white adults reported feeling the same.

Barbara Lloyd, of Charleston, S.C., cries during the singing of

The survey found that nearly three in 10 Black adults (28%) said they had changed their daily routine or schedule in the previous year because of those fears. 

Hate crimes and violence against Black people in the United States are not new. The nation’s history has been marred by such attacks, from centuries of slavery to the lynchings of thousands of Black men, women and children in the early 20th century. While many of those attacks happened in the South, there was also racial violence in northern communities.

Many of the attacks were part of a backlash from whites in power, including lawmakers, and happened in the wake of Reconstruction and later the Jim Crow era.

Florida Gov. DeSantis criticized for feeding racial divisions

Muhammad, of Harvard University, said it struck a chord that while thousands gathered in the nation’s capital Saturday for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, three Black people were killed hours later because of the color of their skin.

Many speakers, including lawmakers and civil rights activists, at the march talked about the need to address violence against communities of color and the impact of toxic rhetoric. Many of those comments were aimed at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also running for president in the GOP primary.

“There’s no history of anti-racist struggle in America, Black freedom movements or civil rights history that doesn’t connect the dots between political leaders and the kind of hateful and racist behavior that we saw in Jacksonville over the weekend,’’ said Muhammad. “So there’s no reason to disassociate those two things at this moment. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it painstakingly clear that he is not committed to protecting the rights of Black people in Florida when it comes to how their children learn, what their children experience if they happen to be part of the LGBTQ plus community.’’

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s requests for comment Monday.

Hundreds participate in the National Action Network demonstration in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis' rejection of a high school African American history course, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Desantis’ battle against “woke” culture in Florida has included blocking an Advanced Placement African American studies course in high schools and attempting to restrict conversations about race in schools and businesses. 

Howard of Reparations United said it’s no surprise the latest mass shooting happened in Florida, which he considers “a hotbed” right now in large part because of DeSantis’ rhetoric.

“DeSantis is a leading voice for an anti-woke movement and for many that means an anti-Black movement,” Howard said. “You can start talking about not teaching history and the other rhetoric, but his ultimate message is ‘anti-Blackness.’” 

Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African studies at California State University, Los Angeles, and a co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A., said DeSantis has “enabled” violent actions such as the shooting through both his rhetoric and policy.

‘Don’t want murder to be normalized’

Washington of the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation said he’s still getting messages and calls from friends and family asking whether his organization was impacted by the shooting.

“Hey, are you okay?’’ some ask.

“We can’t accept this kind of hatred,’’ he said. “We absolutely don’t want murder to be normalized. I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to do little things, every single day, every week, every month, every year in our communities, to make our communities a little bit better, and a little bit safer.’’

Peter Cvjetanovic (R) along with Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va.,  on Aug. 11, 2017.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site