In the midst of jeers during a prayer service intended to remember shooting victims on Sunday, a community leader in Jacksonville backed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
After authorities reported that Ryan Christopher Palmeter, a 21-year-old White gunman, shot and killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville in what investigators believe to be a racially motivated attack, DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, cancelled his planned campaign stops in South Carolina over the weekend and instead returned to his home state.
DeSantis was welcomed to the podium at a vigil held near the Dollar General store on Sunday and assured a councilwoman that he has already been looking to find funding to guarantee “adequate security” for Edward Waters University, the historically Black college close to the shooting site.
“We are not gonna allow these institutions to be targeted by people,” DeSantis said, above some jeers from the crowd.
Ju’Coby Pittman, a Democrat who serves on Jacksonville’s city council, swiftly arrived and removed the podium’s microphone to address the hecklers, imploring them to “put parties aside” at that moment.
“‘Cause it ain’t about parties today. A bullet doesn’t know a party. So don’t get me started,” Pittman said.
“Now if the governor wanted to come here, and he’s bringing gifts to my community, ya’ll know I’m taking the gifts because we’ve been through enough already,” she added. “And I don’t want to go through no more. Now ya’ll just be quiet just a minute and let the governor say what he’s gonna say, and we gonna get this party started. You hear me? Okay, let’s do it.”
DeSantis had earlier made a video message in which he said that after contacting with Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters, he had learned that a manifesto had been discovered that proved the shooter was “targeting people based on their race,” and that “that is totally unacceptable.”
“This guy killed himself rather than face the music and responsibility for his actions, and so he took the coward’s way out,” DeSantis added.
DeSantis announced during the vigil that the state would be releasing financial support for Edward Waters University security and to assist the afflicted families on Monday.
The governor called the gunman a “major league scumbag.”
“What he did is totally unacceptable in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race.”
Angela Michelle Carr, 52, was shot while driving, A.J. Laguerre, 19, was wounded while attempting to run, and Jerrald Gallion, 29, was shot as he walked inside the business in the neighbourhood, which is largely made up of Black people, according to Waters.
Bishop John Guns informed the congregation that Gallion attended St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Jacksonville. In the 27 years that Guns has been there, he claimed that he was the 33rd murder victim.
“In two weeks I have to preach a funeral of a man who should still be alive,” Guns said. “He was not a gangster, he was not a thug — he was a father who gave his life to Jesus and was trying to get it together.
“I wept in church today like a baby because my heart is tired. We are exhausted.”