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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

11 fatal minutes that have Jacksonville confronting racism yet again

A Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fla., the day after a white gunman killed three Black people, on Aug. 27, 2023. Sheriff T.K. Waters of Jacksonville said that the gunman who killed three Black customers at a Dollar General store had no criminal record and purchased his guns legally; authorities are investigating the shooting as a hate crime.

By Nichole Manna, Anna Betts and Patricia Mazzei

In the span of 11 terrifying minutes, a gunman targeting Black people killed two shoppers and an employee at a Dollar General store here, a rampage that authorities are investigating as a hate crime and that has reverberated through a community that has long coped with the legacy of racism.

The shooting Saturday — the day that the nation commemorated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington — prompted somber vigils and renewed vows for unity from residents and officials, but also a tense appearance by the governor in a city that in recent years has dealt with a series of hateful incidents and a continuing dispute over Confederate monuments.

“We have three people who are dead because they are Black,” state Sen. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat, said at a vigil Sunday morning. “Shopping. In our community. Gunned down. Because they were Black.”

Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters on Sunday identified the three victims as Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr., known as A.J., 29, who worked at the store; and Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, 19. Waters identified the gunman as Ryan Christopher Palmeter, a white 21-year-old from neighboring Clay County, and gave a chilling timeline of how the shooting had unfolded.

Carr, an Uber driver, had dropped off a friend at the store just before she was killed, said her son, Chayvaughn Payne.

“She would give her shirt off her back for people,” said Payne, 30, describing Carr as someone who would invite people to cookouts and other family events.

“This is really hard to process,” he added. “To lose a mother for nothing.”

The gunman, wearing a shirt over a tactical vest, as well as a mask and gloves, began his rampage at about 1:08 p.m. Saturday by shooting 11 times into a car parked outside the Dollar General, killing Carr, Waters said at a news conference.

The assailant went into the store, turned right and killed Laguerre before chasing some customers out, although it was unclear why. He returned and killed Gallion, who had entered through the front door with his girlfriend. The gunman then chased and shot at a woman, although he did not injure her.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived, about 1:19 p.m., they heard a single gunshot, which was most likely the gunman killing himself, Waters said.

“When a person grabs a hold of a gun with hateful intentions, it’s very difficult to stop that from happening,” he said.

The gunman had no criminal record, although authorities had held him for an involuntary, 72-hour psychiatric evaluation in 2017, when he was 15, Waters said. A year earlier, police received a domestic violence call involving him and his brother.

The gunman legally bought the two weapons he used in the shooting — a Glock handgun and an AR-15-style rifle — in April and June, Waters said.

Psychiatric evaluations under a Florida law known as the Baker Act do not show up in background checks unless the person has been committed for treatment.

Shortly before Saturday’s shooting, the gunman was spotted putting on the tactical vest in a parking lot at Edward Waters University, a small and private historically Black institution. A campus security guard saw him, and the gunman drove away in a gray Honda Element. The guard reported the gunman’s suspicious presence to a nearby sheriff’s deputy, Waters said.

Two people were in proximity to the gunman in the Edward Waters parking lot, but he did not go after them, Waters said, cautioning against assumptions that the university might have been the intended target.

Still, Waters said it was clear that the gunman sought Black victims. Most — but not all — of the customers he ordered out of the store were white, Waters said at the news conference. In an interview, Waters said the gunman did not shoot at one person inside the store who was also white.

“I know for a fact that he did not like Black people,” said Waters, who is Black. “He made that very clear.”

Toward the end of the shooting, the gunman texted his father, instructing him to use a screwdriver to get into his room at home, Waters said. On the gunman’s laptop, his family found a last will and testament and a suicide note as part of more than 20 pages of racist writings, Waters said in the interview. The family then called the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, although by then, the shooting was over.

The Justice Department is investigating the attack as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism. In March, the FBI released an analysis of hate crime incidents in 2021 — the last year that data was fully available — that said hate crimes overall had increased by more than 11% since 2020. According to the data, anti-Black hate crimes made up the largest “bias incident category,” with 31% of all single-bias incidents in 2021.

Jacksonville, a city of nearly 1 million people, where about 30% of residents are Black, has a long history of racism. Sunday marked the 63rd anniversary of Ax Handle Saturday, when white supremacists severely beat a group of mostly Black civil rights activists.

Mayor Donna Deegan and other local officials planned to attend a commemorative ceremony in the afternoon, before a vigil for the Dollar General shooting victims.

In May, Deegan, a Democrat, was elected to lead Jacksonville, Florida’s largest city, where Republican mayors had been in power for all but four of the past 30 years. Among her administrative appointments was a chief of diversity, equity and inclusion — a $185,000-a-year position that a committee of the City Council voted to defund Thursday, citing budgetary concerns.

The morning vigil, at Saint Paul AME Church of Jacksonville, was attended by at least four Edward Waters students. A professor described students as still too overwhelmed to talk about the shooting.

The choir sang “Amazing Grace” as some of those in attendance wiped away tears.

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