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You didn’t misread the title of this post, but it doesn’t accurately describe the actual event, nor does it suggest the dangerous implications of this type of activity given concerns about the outbreak of COVID-19. Gov. Ron DeSantis has done a very good job of managing Florida through COVID-19, but in spite of his efforts, we’re seeing eruptions like the one described in this post. If other states don’t act quickly to lighten the restrictions on its citizens, we may very well see civil violence and destruction across the country.
Let me summarize the way the gathering on Saturday, May 16, took place and how it was conveniently mischaracterized. First, some people tried to characterize its origins with a planned memorial:
A block party that drew 3,000 people to the Spring Hill neighborhood on Saturday and spiraled out of control had nothing to do with a memorial held earlier in the day to honor a gun violence victim, a family member said on Tuesday.
But the party occurred in the 1200 block of South Delaware Avenue and not at 710 W. Cincinnati Ave. where a memorial for Kenya Alexander was held, said his cousin Javi Renee Collier.
Second, this “party” took place in several DeLand locations, not in any one “block.” Third, that evening the party turned ugly:
Law enforcement, which also included DeLand police, said they were met with weapons pointed at officers as well as bar stools, bottles and jars were thrown at them.
Around 10:30 p.m., a passenger in a vehicle pointed a weapon out the window, in the direction of a deputy and pedestrians while at a gas station at Beresford and Spring Garden avenues.
Just after midnight, at the 1200 block of South Delaware Avenue, two men, later identified as Alphonso Parker and Charles Turner, exchanged gunfire around a crowd of roughly 1,500.
Fourth, to deflect the criticism of their irresponsible behavior, members of the crowd described the incidents as racially motivated, and the sheriff and police chief pushed back —sort of:
‘Because the majority of those in the crowd were black, and the deputies and police were white, we are now having … hard conversations about race, racism and inequality,’ Chitwood said in a statement. ‘I don’t accept the accusations that our deputies and police are racists, or that their actions Saturday were racially motivated. It’s not true, and it’s not a fair conclusion from the video.’
I know that large events are taking place all over the country. If we expect to get through this pandemic without major civil disobedience, the governors and President Trump are going to have to take a hard look at how they are managing this process for protecting the public. We are setting ourselves up for disruptions if our rights to assemble and gather are not restored.
The fact is, most of the shutdowns (whether effective or not) only worked because the public cooperated. Weddings were radically modified or postponed; sporting events were canceled; people observed wearing masks, washing their hands, and maintaining social distancing. We wanted to protect each other and our communities. The inconvenience seemed worth the risks, to make sure we didn’t overwhelm our hospitals.
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But that time has come and gone. People are losing their jobs and their sanity. They agreed to a deal but the governors have reneged, primarily out of fear of the unknown. We are all getting angry and impatient with their radical decisions. And people, who may have felt disenfranchised and isolated in general, are chomping at the bit to lash out at the powers-that-be.
Particularly in low- to middle-class communities of black people, the potential for protests and violence are greater. Of course, not all black people are angry in this period of shutdowns. But when they are joined by the few people who are angry, the frustration and rage will be contagious. When you add the tendency to blame law enforcement for the community misbehavior (particularly when the police and sheriff’s deputies are almost all white, working in a predominantly black community) the danger signs are there.
And, there are people who are looking for reasons to destroy civil order and community relationships. Southern Poverty Law Center, which blames white supremacy for the formation of radical black groups, has published a long list of extremist black groups. We have no way of knowing whether their radical ideas extend to violence, but do we really want to test out their goals?
Law enforcement also has a role to play in shutting down this type of lawlessness. Leaders of law enforcement, when the facts support their position, must protest the accusations of racism. Even if the black community disputes their claims in spite of the evidence, such as videos and appropriate orders given to the officers, they must speak out loud and clear.
There was also this observation:
Although large gatherings are discouraged during the COVID-19 outbreak, they are not against the law. Both Police Chief Umberger and Sheriff Chitwood were clear that the police would not enforce social distancing.
‘It’s a personal responsibility. It’s not law enforcement’s job to enforce quote-unquote, social distancing.’ Chitwood said.
He noted large groups have been gathering against Department of Health recommendations in other areas of the county. [My italics]
It would be interesting to know the nature and size of these other gatherings in the county. These inconsistencies in policy application aren’t helpful to any members of the community.
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A key question to ask is whether these violent gatherings were due to the restrictions of COVID-19? Or were they random parties that happened to turn violent? And what are we to do with citizens who ignore suggestions not to schedule large gatherings? Since they are legally allowed to gather, should we turn our back until and when violence erupts? These are the questions we have to face and answer.
If we don’t want the incidents of civil disorder (as opposed to lawful protests) to escalate, the governors must act in concert with law enforcement.
Let’s hope it’s not too late to dial back the discord.Published in