Jacksonville Shooting Echoes a Dark History of Racial Violence

Authorities in Jacksonville, Florida, have identified the victims of the tragic shooting at a Dollar General store, which is now under investigation by the Justice Department as a hate crime.

The victims were Anolt “AJ” Laguerre Jr., aged 19; Jerrald De’Shaun Gallon, aged 29; and Angela Michelle Carr, aged 52. All three victims were African American, and thankfully, no one else was injured during the incident.

The shooter, identified as 21-year-old Ryan Palmeter, left behind written materials, described as “manifestos,” that strongly suggested racial hatred as the motivation behind the attack. Sheriff T.K. Waters of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office explicitly stated, “Plainly put, this shooting was racially motivated, and he hated Black people.” The presence of these writings has added another layer of tragedy to this horrific event.

The Department of Justice, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, is now investigating this shooting as both a hate crime and an act of racially-motivated violent extremism.

The gunman, believed to have resided in Clay County, drove approximately 40 miles to Jacksonville on the day of the shooting. Before targeting the Dollar General store, he attempted to enter Edward Waters University, a nearby historically Black university. Campus security intervened, escorting him off the premises. It’s worth noting that last year, on the first day of Black History Month, Edward Waters and other Black colleges had received anonymous bomb threats, leading to concerns of targeted attacks.

The assailant, dressed in tactical gear, used both an assault-style rifle and a handgun during the attack. Disturbingly, swastikas were found painted on one side of the rifle.

The shooter had texted his father, sharing the locations of three manifesto documents addressed to his parents, the media, and federal agents. However, by the time the family contacted the local sheriff’s office, the attack was already underway. Sheriff Waters clarified that there is no evidence to suggest the shooter was part of a larger group, emphasizing the shooter acted alone. FBI agents are now on-site and have initiated a federal civil rights investigation, intending to treat this incident as a hate crime.

The shooter had a history of involvement in a 2016 domestic incident, although no arrest was made. Additionally, in 2017, the Baker Act was invoked against him, allowing involuntary detention for mental health evaluation.

Local news outlets reported a substantial police presence around the Dollar General store on Kings Road in the College Gardens neighborhood of Northwest Jacksonville. Students at Edward Waters University were advised to stay inside their residence halls until the scene was cleared.

Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan condemned the act as a “hate-filled crime” and expressed her distress over the recurring tragedies in the community.

This dreadful incident unfolded on the fifth anniversary of another shooting in Jacksonville, where two people were killed and 11 others injured at a gaming tournament. It also coincided with a day when thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., to renew calls for racial justice, marking the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Several speakers at the event mentioned the troubling increase in hate crimes, highlighting the urgency of addressing this issue.

President Biden issued a statement, offering prayers for the victims, their families, and the people of Jacksonville. He called for a clear rejection of white supremacy in America.

Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP, demanded enhanced safety measures to protect Black communities from racial violence. He specifically called for stricter regulations around Florida’s permitless carry law, which allows concealed firearms without mandatory training, licensing, or background checks.

On Sunday, mourners gathered at church services and prayer vigils to remember the victims. At a vigil near the Dollar General store, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis faced criticism from the crowd but announced that his state would provide financial support for security at Edward Waters University and the victims’ families, condemning the shooter’s actions as unacceptable in Florida.

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