Riots in Jacksonville, again.
The city went through this 60 years ago. I was there.
There is a vast difference in the two events.
In 1960, black Americans were supporting the cause of civil rights. Most were following the guidelines of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated non-violence.
For example, young black people would go to the Woolworth’s downtown west of Hemming Park and ask to be served at the lunch counter. They were refused because of the segregation practiced then, which is what they were protesting.
Classic line from the times, perhaps used here: “We don’t serve Negroes.” “That’s OK. I don’t eat them.”
But one day in August 1960, a large gathering was anticipated downtown.
Lies have been told about that event. One of them is that the newspaper refused to cover the protests.
I was a young reporter for the Jacksonville Journal, on general assignment. I was sent there, along with several others. The orders I was given were, “call us and report what is happening.”
We had no cell phones, computers or other high-tech gear. I carried my own small, 35mm Kodak camera.
Among the things I was an eyewitness to:
- A young black boy, about 13 perhaps, was riding his bicycle east on Monroe Street when two white men stopped him. There were words I could not hear and one of the men hit the boy in the face. It was a cowardly act.
- A group of about 30-40 white man cornered a black man in a doorway of the J.C. Penney store then at Duval and Hogan streets. They pummeled him. As I took photos, one of the men told me I would be better off if I put the camera away.
- There were three or four instances of white men hitting black men. I did not see any fight back. One black man was struck on the head with an ax handle at Monroe and Laura. I got there afterward and took photos of him.
(Life magazine asked to see my roll of film. I sent them but they used photos taken by someone else instead.)
I did not see it happen, but a young black man named Nat Glover was at the park and got hit with an ax handle. Later, he joined the police force. I met him when he was a rookie. Much later he became sheriff, with my paper’s endorsement, and told me the story.
I called the city desk and told them what I saw. I actually don’t remember what was published in the Journal or the Florida Times-Union, but I know the managing editor, a very responsible newspaperman, was concerned about overplaying the story and possibly stoking violence.
There were other scattered incidents in the city in the following week or two and at other times during the 1960s, violence did flare up from time to time.
One occasion was a visit by H. Rap Brown, a black leader who was known for inflammatory rhetoric such as “Burn, baby, burn!” (He was a racist and a criminal and currently is serving a life sentence for killing a cop.)
It was held at the Durkee baseball field on Myrtle Avenue. I was there, on the field with maybe a hundred other people and mine was one of the only white faces.
In the stands with Brown was Gov. Claude Kirk. I took photos of them together.
There was a lot of commotion, but no violence at the field. I believe there was a spotty bit in other parts of town afterward.
I went to one scene where the police were dispersing black residents, on dubious grounds. “Man, why don’t you get out of here!” a high-ranking officer barked at me.
This week in Jacksonville was an entirely different situation.
Following the death of a black man in the custody of Minneapolis police, violence broke out around the country, and unfortunately made its way to Jacksonville.
I did not witness any of the events in Jacksonville this week. But based on media reports, if accurate, at least one officer was injured and police cars were damaged. Apparently no arrests were made.
But this was not peaceful protest, although it may have started that way. It had all the earmarks of deliberate and organized rioting by anarchists and fascists.
The local media should be finding out who organized these events and why.
There is no apparent reason for a riot in Jacksonville related to an event in Minnesota. A suspect was fired and arrested in that case and the judicial process is working as intended.
Nevertheless, senseless looting and burning have taken place across the nation.
Those suggesting the death in Minneapolis was a typical example of police brutality have a lot to prove. In the vast majority of cases, lethal force is justified and when it is not, officers have been sent to prison.
Much more rational is the view that opportunists have seized the unfortunate death of a suspect to promote a political agenda.
City officials seem to perceive the threat.
“Police officers have been attacked, and we’re not going to tolerate it in our city,” Mayor Lenny Curry said. “We’re not going to let them burn our city to the ground.”
Let’s hope that if Jacksonville “resists” anything, it is the effort to politicize a tragedy.