Jacksonville and the continued assault on Black people

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As segments of the nation remembered the 60th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, we simultaneously witnessed another horrendous, senseless act of racially sadistic violence occur in Jacksonville, Florida.

Armed with an AR-15 and a handgun decorated with a swastika, 21-year-old Ryan Christopher Palmiter carried out a racist mass shooting at a Dollar General store in the New Town neighborhood of Jacksonville. After killing three Black people, two of whom worked at the store, Palmiter shot and killed himself at the scene.

It was later revealed Palmiter, wearing a tactical vest and face mask, had attempted to enter the campus of the historically Black Edward Waters University before moving on to the Dollar General.

“Portions of these manifestos detail the shooter’s disgusting ideology of hate,” Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters told reporters. “Plainly put, the shooting was racially motivated, and he hated black people.”

In addition to a number of racist manifestos, law enforcement also found among Palmiter’s possessions a suicide note to his family and a will, indicating his intention to end his own life after the shooting.

The obviously disturbed young man was deeply infested with irrational hatred and xenophobia. There is no question that the attack was premeditated. He targeted a Black college and ended up at a discount store to kill as many Black people as possible. His white supremacist actions were driven by hardcore, deep-seated animus and hatred.

While violence against Black people is hardly new and people of color in America have been routinely targeted throughout the country’s history, it will take time for the victims’ families and other Jacksonville residents to fully heal from this senseless tragedy.

To add insult to injury, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had the gall to attend a vigil on Sunday evening.

Mind you, this is the same DeSantis who has railed against critical race theory, prohibited Advanced Placement African American history from being taught in Florida high schools, and declared that slavery was beneficial for Black slaves.

Given his deplorable antics, it was nothing short of obscene for DeSantis to attend such an event. Not surprisingly, the governor was loudly booed and drowned out as he attempted to deliver a speech.

Notably, DeSantis attempted to speak on the anniversary of what is known in Jacksonville as Ax Handle Saturday. On August. 27, 1960, in one of the city’s downtown parks, Black Americans staging a peaceful sit-in to protest segregation at a lunch counter were attacked by a White mob wielding baseball bats and ax handles. When the demonstrators fought back, police came and arrested the Black victims, as opposed to the White aggressors.

While Palmiter may not have been part of any online chat or secret dark web group, he was no doubt influenced by much of the blatantly, callous acidic rhetoric that has been steadily emanating from the current fractured political environment. Much of it comes from the deep depths of the political and cultural right-wing echo chamber.

There is rancid rhetoric that pours out from corners of the extreme left as well. But the vast majority of liberal politicians rarely, if ever, take to the airwaves stoking the fires of cultural resentment, as has been the case with a number of political figures on the right – including elected officials. From Josh Hawley to Marjorie Taylor Greene, from Lauren Bobert to Matt Gaetz, brazenly inflammatory rhetoric is part and parcel of the game. Just recently, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy called Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who is Black, part of the “modern KKK.”

The three victims in the Jacksonville shooting perished for one reason – they were Black in a nation that continues to produce and promote white supremacists intent on hating, harassing, harming and murdering those they dislike or disagree with.

Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.