Phrases like “City Under Siege” get thrown around in the media so often that they become cliché. But it’s hard for many Jacksonville residents to not feel that way, at least a little. This year has been defined by death, and this summer has been bookended by gun violence.
The most recent episode occurred on Oct. 21, when the relative calm of an early Sunday afternoon was broken by the sound of gunshots. When it was over, six people lay wounded, three critically; the gunman was gone; and the surrounding community was left asking the same old questions, with no useful answers forthcoming.
While the city was fixated on the first quarter of that day’s Jaguars-Texans game, early news was filtering in—literally. Since police scanners were removed from newsrooms a few years ago, following statewide pressure from other departments, the media has been left dependent on second-hand sources when breaking news comes in. This, like so many other recent occasions, was one where the old technology would have proven useful for both the media and the community it serves.
The Public Information Office of JSO (@JSOPIO) broke the news on Twitter at 1:26 p.m.: “#JSO is working multiple people shot at APR [A. Phillip Randolph Blvd.] and Pippin. Once a safe location is determined for the media it will be advised. At this time, no location has been set.” That safe location turned out to be a nearby park, at Evergreen and First, where the assembled media were briefed two hours later.
A still image from security camera footage was distributed, showing a silver-grey four-door Nissan sedan speeding away from the 900 block of A. Phillip Randolph Blvd., on the city’s historic Eastside. The shooter rode shotgun, opening up on a small crowd standing out front of a local laundromat at about half past noon, firing for no particular reason that anyone could discern. One woman was shot, as well as five men.
A stray bullet reportedly struck the façade of a nearby church. It’s an apt metaphor for the way gun violence has imposed itself on historic neighborhoods like this one.
“We usually ride our bikes to the game,” said Stu Leppard (alias), a local business owner who lives in neighboring Springfield and wishes to remain anonymous. He rode past the area a few minutes before the incident. “We always go APR. At the time, tailgaters were starting to show up, but there’s not much tailgating at the intersection where it happened. I know the spot because there’s a weird kind of carnival vibe lot; I always try to figure that lot out when I ride by.”
Leppard learned of the shooting via the Ring app, which monitors the security camera at his house and alerts him to nearby police activity.
“We found out as we were walking into the stadium. The people we were with were spooked. It’s eerie to know you were in the same location shortly before.”
A number of fans reported receiving calls from loved ones who knew they were at the game. Once the story went national, with headlines all linking it to the stadium, people unfamiliar with the terrain naturally assumed the action broke out much closer. A similar dynamic was in effect after the Landing shooting two months ago.
If any of the victims know who shot them, they didn’t tell the police. It’s all too common in communities that don’t trust the police, largely because they’ve really been given no good reason to. As always, Crime Stoppers has an open call for anonymous tips at 1-866-845-TIPS.
“We’ve got to get innovative, in terms of our policing,” said Ben Frazier, founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville. “Police reforms are great, but we’ve got to be honest with ourselves about areas like the Eastside, zip code 32206, where 38.6% of the population lives below the poverty line. These people must be given a fair shot at getting their piece of the economic pie.”
Early speculation was that the shooting was gang-related, but Frazier points to a broader dynamic at play.
“We’ve got to stop glamorizing violence among our young people. It’s a community problem that requires a community solution. We understand that the pressing problem is the violence that’s affecting people across the community, but we need to connect the dots between poverty and crime.”
It’s been a truly brutal year for the city, with an estimated 70% of homicides going unsolved. Between the murders, the suicides and the epidemic of opioid overdoses, death has impacted on every segment of the community multiple times by now. Trauma fatigue has begun to set in, but people are not giving up hope. That’s not their nature.
“This will not change my routine,” said Stu Leppard. “A few bad eggs are not who these people are that I see every game. I will continue to ride that way, and I hope the celebratory vibe returns.”
Surely that vibe will return, and quickly. It’s a resilient community that’s been dealing with these issues for a long time. But, all the same, it was a day that will not soon be forgotten.