Jacksonville Shooting

Unsurprisingly, Ron DeSantis Fails to Comfort Floridians in Wake of Jacksonville Shooting

Local leaders are calling out the Florida governor's dangerous anti-"woke" agenda in the aftermath of the racist attack. “He had a lot of audacity to come there after he lit the match and fanned the flames,” one state politician said.
Demonstrators rally against white supremacy in Jacksonville Florida August 28 days after a deadly racist attack over the...
Demonstrators rally against white supremacy in Jacksonville, Florida August 28, days after a deadly racist attack over the weekend.Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Ron DeSantis is continuing to face criticism in his home state following the racist attack Saturday in Jacksonville, which left three Black Floridians dead. Over the weekend, the governor and 2024 candidate was booed at a vigil for the victims: “Your policies caused this,” one person shouted, referring to the racist agenda the Republican has enacted as part of the war on “woke” he has made central to his political brand. The outcry has persisted this week, as he pledged a million dollars in security to Edward Waters University, the historically Black university the gunman visited before carrying out the Dollar General attack, and $100,000 to the families of the dead.

“I just felt like he had a lot of audacity to come there after he lit the match and fanned the flames and emboldened the individual to do what happened,” State Representative Angie Nixon said in an interview with MSNBC’s Joy Reid Monday evening, noting that HBCUs had already requested more than the money he announced earlier in the day. “You want to give us money after you have blood on your hands? I have a problem with that.”

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DeSantis has called the gunman—who left behind what Sheriff T.K. Waters described as racist “manifestos” before killing himself at the scene—a “major league scumbag” and denounced the attack as “unacceptable.” But, as his critics note, the shooting—which the Justice Department is investigating as an “act of racially motivated violent extremism”—did not come out of nowhere. It was a flare-up of the very history and ongoing issues he has, at best, sought to whitewash, and at worst, exacerbated. “This type of hatred isn’t random,” as former Democratic State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, now a candidate for state senate, told the Guardian. “It’s been festering in Florida.”

Florida—where “woke goes to die,” according to a signature DeSantis line—was the subject of an NAACP travel advisory in May: “Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon,” NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement at the time. DeSantis dismissed the warning: “This is nothing more than a stunt,” the governor said through a spokesperson in May. Just three months later, in the state’s most populous city, a killer with a Rhodesian Army patch on his vest and a swastika on his assault weapon murdered three Black people: Angela Michelle Carr, Jerrald Gallion, and Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr. “What Gov. DeSantis has done is created an atmosphere for such tragedies to take place,” Johnson told the Associated Press on Monday. “This is exactly why we issued the travel advisory.”

A DeSantis spokesman cast the criticism of the governor as “reprehensible”: “He will not tolerate racial hatred or violence in Florida,” the spokesman, Bryan Griffin, told the AP. But his policies—from voting restrictions to book bans to new curriculum standards that imply there was some “personal benefit” to enslaved people during American slavery—tell a different story. “He called him a scumbag, which is, you know, OK,” Mutaqee Akbar, president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP, told NPR’s Juana Summers Monday. “But like, let’s call it what it is. Let’s call it racist. Let’s call it racism. Let’s call it hate. And let’s teach what’s going on the real way in these schools so we can’t repeat history. Otherwise, we will repeat history. And that’s a part of what we saw this weekend.”