A photo that made the rounds on social media summed up the tension at a recent vigil in the wake of a racially-motivated shooting at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville.
On one side, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in a suit and tie speaking into a microphone; on the other, a defiant-looking Democratic state Rep. Angie Nixon in a black T-shirt reading, "Stand With Black Women," staring down the governor.
The weekend before Hurricane Idalia scoured a path across the northern part of the state, hundreds came out to mourn the three who died on Aug. 26: Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr., known as A.J., 29; and Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, 19. DeSantis appeared and spoke to boos and jeers.
Meantime, the gunman's father found a journal in his room that "was 'the diary of a madman' that made it clear he hated Black people," PBS reported.
The News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam recently spoke with Nixon on City & State Florida’s “Deeper Dive with Dara” podcast. What follows are five of the questions asked. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity:
You have been very outspoken since the death of the three people shot and killed by a 21-year-old man at a Dollar General in Jacksonville's Newtown neighborhood. (The gunman) first went to Edward Waters University where a security guard sent him packing. You've been present at vigils ... You have said that the state's policies and the rhetoric, the political climate in Florida, have contributed to what happened. Can you expand on that for us?
The governor, since before he was governor of the state of Florida, has used rhetoric that was simply racist dog whistles. In one of the debates against Andrew Gillum, he said, don't monkey this up. He showed us who he was. That rhetoric has not changed. It has since just permeated through many of the policies that he has pushed and the tone he has taken, the posture he has taken with the Black community. Many of the policies he's pushed, the rhetoric he's skewed, has been anti-Black.
I know that when I came into office in 2020, I was elected during the majority peaceful uprisings of the brutal killing of George Floyd. The first policy that he pushed was HB 1, their top priority bill, which we call the anti-protest bill, was a bill that wanted to silence the righteous rage and frustration of communities when they feel as though they are voiceless, when they feel as though their elected officials aren't speaking up for them or doing anything for them, and when they want to protest.
This bill is making it harder for folks to gather without being seen as mobs because it's a very subjective policy, where they can label groups of people who gather as mobs. We know how much implicit bias many of our law enforcement officers have in regards to especially Black people. Let's be real, let's not sterilize it, especially Black people. Ron DeSantis' war on wokeness, saying that Florida is where woke goes to die, his 'stop woke' agenda. We know that it's simply code for Black people and it is evident that he has lit the match and then fanned the flames to cause what happened (in Jacksonville). He has been spewing such vitriol and hate through his policies (while he) has done nothing to denounce Nazis running around our state, pulling people out of cars, throwing up Nazi symbols and swastikas on government buildings ... He has said nothing.
He's done nothing to ... address real issues that Floridians care about, the bread and butter issues, the fact that there's an over-9,000 educator shortage in the state of Florida, the fact that people can no longer afford to live in their homes due to the rising cost of property insurance.
What do you think about him showing up to the vigil?
I was absolutely livid when I walked up because I was asked to go sit in the audience. So I walked up from the side. I couldn't even see the folks in the audience. They were like, 'Oh, we have a seat for you over there.' ... I'm like, 'No, I'm not sitting out there. I want to stand with the people.' And I got up to where I was standing and I looked and I was in total disbelief that he had showed up. I feel like he was the reason that this happened. He was one of the reasons that this happened and it was the audacity for me.
I immediately walked over to one of the pastors and I said, 'What the hell?' And he was like, 'I know, I know. And I said, 'I can't believe this ... are you going to talk about his role in this?' And then he said, 'we can't get too political.' And I'm like, 'Well, why do we think this happened in the first place?' I was pissed and I did not boo, but I understand why those folks were booing him when he got up to speak.
In that picture, what you were thinking at that moment?
One of the things that I can say is that I was thinking (DeSantis) should not be here, or while he's here, he should apologize for his rhetoric and his role in what happened. And then I was thinking, this dude won't even say Black. He will not say Black or African-American. This dude won't even call the guy a racist. He's calling him a scumbag. Like, let's call it out for what it is.
And so I don't know if y'all have seen the clip towards the end ... when he was saying this scumbag and this and that. You could hear me saying, 'he's a racist, call him a racist.' ... I feel that (the governor) has done some message testing and that word does not do well with the base that he is trying to turn out for his primary and he's trying to stay away from it at all costs.
Jacksonville has a long history of racially motivated attacks ... (that) Saturday was the 63rd anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday, in which a white mob armed with baseball bats and ax handles threatened, beat and chased black residents in Jacksonville. So your community has been sort of a hotbed for racist attacks for a long time. What do you say to people who say, well, that's just Jacksonville?
Yes, that happened in Jacksonville, but Rosewood happened in our state. Ocoee happened in our state. There are other places where there has been state sanctioned violence against Black people and now we have a 'stop woke' agenda that doesn't want us to learn about it. That says that when we speak about it, 'oh my God, it's making my children uncomfortable. It's making me uncomfortable. I don't want you to learn about it.' What's so ironic is that what took place on Saturday may not even be learned in school ... if we allow this agenda to continue in our state, that's wild to me.
... Let's be clear (about) violence against Black and brown people. We are on stolen land. We can't forget the fact that the natives were given blankets filled with diseases to kill them off so that white folks could take their land. And so folks get upset and say we are causing this divide. We're just simply talking about history. It happened. We need to own it and we need to figure out how to do better. But when you don't learn your history, you tend to repeat it. And it seems like that's what's happening today.
How do we undo some of the damage that's being done?
I know it's sometimes hard because we have to educate people on why it matters, (but) folks (have) to get out and vote for the right people who aren't going to spew this hateful rhetoric. But then also as legislators or as a community, folks have to hold legislators accountable for the policies that they are pushing and they have to meet with them and they have to come out to committees and send emails. I mean, I know they have done that, but it's like we have to keep up the pressure.
We have to come together and continually do that. And then the elected officials that don't agree with the rhetoric and don't feel, don't believe that ideology, they need to not sit back and be complicit. They don't need to care more about bringing home a few appropriations or passing a few bills that aren't going to really transform communities. They don't need to sit idly by while others continue to stoke the flames that cause things to happen.