Jacksonville teacher and activist Neil Jefferson was among the speakers during a demonstration decrying white supremacy on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. The incident was slated to celebrate the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but shifted into a demonstration following racial violence in Jacksonville's Grand Park neighborhood on Aug. 26. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Jacksonville demonstrators decry white supremacy, point fingers at DeSantis 

Published on August 29, 2023 at 12:30 am

The plans for the protest changed when a gunman decided to kill innocent people.

Jacksonville organizers wanted to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Monday. But, when racial violence shocked the city less than 72 hours prior, the rally in James Weldon Johnson Park changed into a demonstration against white supremacy.

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Saturday was the second time in 18 months in the U.S. that a white man in his 20s traveled to a predominantly Black neighborhood to open fire in a store

In Buffalo 10 people were killed. On Saturday the victims were:

Angela Carr, 52

Jerrald Gallion, 29

Anolt “A.J.” Laguerre Jr., 19

Protesters march in Downtown Jacksonville against white supremacy on Monday, Aug. 28, 2023. The demonstration was initially planned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but changed following the racist attack in Grand Park that killed three people. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

“I want the people in my community to be able to go to Family Dollar, shop and feel safe,” Jacksonville teacher and activist Neil Jefferson said at Monday’s rally. “I want them to be able to go to Walmart, shop and feel safe. I want them to be able to come out to the park, enjoy it and be safe. But, if we want that, we have to stand up.”

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Jamil Davis, an organizer with Black Voters Matter, says the time to sing “We Shall Overcome” was on Sunday. Monday was the time to begin putting works behind the faith that was espoused over the weekend.

With local and federal law enforcement investigations ongoing, officials have concluded the mass shooting was racially motivated. On Monday night, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the FBI had opened a federal civil rights investigation and will pursue this incident as a hate crime.

“From everything we know now, this was a targeted attack — a hate crime that was racially motivated,” Wray said in a written statement. He said the FBI would “bring every resource to bear” in order to “investigate the attacker’s heinous intentions, to move forward and prevent future acts of violence, and to achieve justice for all those who have been affected by this horrific act.”

The hundreds who gathered in James Weldon Johnson Park demanded an end to white supremacy, as speakers called for changes in Tallahassee.  

“Ronald Dion DeSantis has put us in a position where white people feel emboldened to do such acts,” Davis said. 

DeSantis’ presence at a vigil Sunday in Grand Park, not far from the site of the shooting, had similarly elicited boos from attendees. On Monday, the governor announced he was pledging $1 million in public funding for security upgrades at the private historically Black Edward Waters University, as well as some funds for the shooting victims’ families.

Florida Gov. and U.S. presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis attend a vigil for the victims of the Jacksonville shooting in Jacksonville’s Grand Park neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 27. DeSantis’ presence was booed by some in the crowd. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Despite that pledge, Northside Coalition leader Kelly Frazier detailed seven instances when, she believes, the governor’s policies have targeted Black people.

They included the state’s new social studies standards, which say enslaved Black people benefited from skills they learned, as well as a new law restricting third-party organizations’ ability to register voters.

Following nearly a dozen speeches, demonstrators marched through Downtown and through the LaVilla neighborhood. The multi-racial, interdenominational, multi-generational marchers resembled the aligned parties who descended on Washington six decades ago this week.

Grand Park resident Mary Dennis is among the hundreds marching in Downtown and LaVilla on Monday. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Grand Park resident Mary Dennis was among Monday’s marchers.

Dennis marched with the names of Carr, Gallion and Laguerre on a placard. She has visited that Dollar General more than once and realizes she could have been on the receiving end of indiscriminate bullets just because of who she is. 

Dennis says she would like the wider community to find commonality through prayer and understanding.

“It’s very, very important to me,” Dennis says. “I don’t want their names to get lost amongst all the other names. Each case is very significant. Each case is very important. And I want to make sure I keep their names on my heart. Wherever I go, their names will definitely follow me.”

author image Reporter email Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at

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