The initial attempt by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to reach out to Black residents in the wake of a racist shooting attack was met with derision and criticism for the contrast to his administration’s prior policies regarding Black history.
“We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race,” DeSantis claimed during a public appearance in Jacksonville on August 27 2023. “We are going to stand up and we are going to do what we need to do to make sure that evil does not triumph in the state of Florida.”
The 21-year-old white gunman reportedly visited the campus on August 26 2023, hours before shooting and killing three Black people — 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, 29-year-old Jerrald Gallion, and 19-year-old A.J. Laguerre — inside a Dollar General store and later killing himself. The administration said it would donate $100,000 to the families of the victims.
As NPR reported, DeSantis’s recent history quickly got in the way of his outreach attempt:
As DeSantis approached the podium to speak, some people in the crowd began to boo; one person yelled out, “You’re not welcome here.” Later, someone shouted, “Your policies caused this,” according to videos of the event.
See the moment Florida’s governor and US presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis was booed and heckled when he spoke at a vigil for three black people killed in a racist shooting ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/Xe5NEiWoDi
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) August 28, 2023
Gov. Ron DeSantis was booed and heckled at a vigil for three people killed in an attack where a gunman targeted Black people in a store in Jacksonville, Florida. https://t.co/clVa3ZYBmf pic.twitter.com/WZzD635Zgy
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 28, 2023
The shooting took place just over one month after the governor himself pushed the questionable argument that some Black people benefited from the institution of slavery when they “eventually parlayed” skills they learned as slaves, a claim that was roundly condemned.
“One of the main things about slavery, beyond the physical damage that it did to people of so many generations, was that it prevented people from becoming what they could have become,” Florida International University professor emeritus Marvin Dunn told the Washington Post at the time. “So what if you became a carpenter or a blacksmith or a good maid? Your chances of that were not determined by you, it was determined by somebody else. That’s not a rationalization for enslavement.”
That claim was part of a campaign by the DeSantis state government to ban the curriculum of Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies, which his administration blocked in January 2023 claiming that it was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law” and that it left room for “ideological material.”
His administration’s idea of “ideological” has included weaponizing the use of terms such as “critical race theory” — a college-level discipline — and the slang term “woke” in service of bans against school curriculums covering systemic racism, or against university programs focused on increasing diversity.
These types of initiatives were directly identified as factors in the May 2023 statement by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) declaring the state unsafe for travel for Black Americans.
“Under the leadership of Governor Desantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon,” NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson said at the time. “He should know that democracy will prevail because its defenders are prepared to stand up and fight. We’re not backing down, and we encourage our allies to join us in the battle for the soul of our nation.”