ICARE board member Geneva Pittman lays a flower atop others on the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office steps. The 124 carnations represented how many people were murdered in 2023 in Jacksonville. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville TodayICARE board member Geneva Pittman lays a flower atop others on the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office steps. The 124 carnations represented how many people were murdered in 2023 in Jacksonville. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today
ICARE board member Geneva Pittman lays a flower atop others on the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office steps. The 124 carnations represented how many people were murdered in 2023 in Jacksonville. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today

ICARE lays murder toll at sheriff’s doorstep

Published on April 8, 2024 at 5:13 pm

Community members on Monday laid red carnations one at a time atop a heart-shaped white satin sheet on the top step of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

As a guitarist strummed Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind, what started as a handful slowly grew to 124 flowers, each representing one of the people murdered last year in Jacksonville.

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Standing next to the stack of red petals, about 40 members and supporters of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment again implored Sheriff T.K. Waters to adopt the National Network for Safe Communities’ Group Violence Intervention program. ICARE members say the program appears to be stopping murders in other major cities, yet Waters has repeatedly said he will not adopt it here.

“How many times can our sheriff turn his head before he just doesn’t see,” the guitar player sang, adapting a Dylan lyric to Monday’s ICARE actions.

The Rev. Willie Barnes Jr. said Jacksonville must try something new to stem the violence since a majority of the people murdered in 2023 were Black — men and boys “who looked like me.”

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“I am a pastor who has had to sit with families as they have buried loved ones due to violence in our community. I am here because if something is not done, more people will die,” he said. “It is draining our community of resources and traumatizing our children. Violence is harming our schools and setting an entire generation back. We are here today because there is a solution to the problem.”

When they tried to meet with Waters on Monday, they learned he was not available all week. Waters also told Jacksonville Today he could not attend ICARE’s Nehemiah Action Assembly next Monday, when members will discuss issues and possible solutions with city officials.

The assembly is the same night as the annual Police Memorial Day event at the memorial wall outside Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. Waters said he would “never in a million years skip that for anything.”

“They are more than welcome to set an appointment with my executive assistant, and they can come to my conference room and spend as much time as we want talking, an hour or so, to talk about whatever subjects they have,” Waters said. “I have explained the position, my position as the elected leader of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and the Nehemiah Assembly is more of a question-and-answer session where I am only allowed to give one word answers, and it is truly not beneficial for real discussion.”

More than 40 members and supporters of ICARE gathered Monday, April 8, 2024, to honor last year’s 124 murder victims. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today

ICARE is made up of hundreds of members of the city’s faith community, including clergy and staff at 38 Jacksonville churches, synagogues and other congregations in Duval County. They use what they call their “collective people power” to push the city’s elected officials to find countywide solutions to problems such as crime, low graduation rates and homelessness.

In recent years, ICARE has pressed police to stop arresting people for minor offenses that can leave them with a lifetime criminal record for nonviolent lapses. Instead, ICARE has pushed for adult civil citations, saying those arrests undermine public trust in law enforcement and do not make the city safer. The Sheriff’s Office and Waters have not agreed to an adult civil citation program, although they do support a similar program for juveniles.

The Sheriff’s Office also has an 8-year-old program designed to cut down on violent crime, but ICARE said it isn’t doing good enough. ICARE members have been lobbying the Sheriff’s Office for the past year to adopt the Group Violence Intervention program.

Staff in the Group Violence Intervention program work with community members to deliver a moral message against violence as police put criminal gangs on notice about the consequences of more violence, the group’s website says.

The Rev. Adam Gray, ICARE’s secretary, said the sheriff is not interested.

“He told us that he didn’t need to, that his program was a model for other cities to follow, and yet 124 people were murdered last year,” Gray said. “Jacksonville is still the murder capital of Florida. The sheriff has refused to meet with us, refused to answer questions from the media about violence, and removed homicide data from the (Sheriff’s Offfice) transparency website. But doing these things, hiding the problem, will not make the problem go away.”

The Rev. Adam Gray, ICARE’s secretary, adds another carnation to a white silk heart in front of the Sheriff’s Office as the organization remembers the 124 people murdered last year in Jacksonville. | Dan Scanlan, Jacksonville Today

ICARE members learned Monday morning from Jacksonville Today that Waters was not going to be at his office all week or able attend next week’s Nehemiah Assembly. But they still went inside the Sheriff’s Office on Monday to present its invitation for the sheriff to attend the assembly.

Undersheriff Shawn Coursey did briefly talk to them, but he refused to accept the Nehemia Assembly invitation or deliver it to Waters, Gray said.

“We think that it is important for the sheriff to publicly have accountability around the issue of gun violence,” Gray said after the brief meeting inside. “If he is avoiding us, we gave him the date of the Nehemia Assembly 10 months ago, long before any of his other commitments were on the calendar or publically available. He has at all times tried to avoid engaging with us on the issue of gun violence.”

As to suggestions that ICARE make an appointment, Gray said they have made more than 20 requests in the past year for a meeting and been “denied at every turn.”

ICARE’s Nehemiah Action Assembly will begin at 6:45 p.m. Monday at the Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church at 10325 Interstate Center Drive.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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