Taking back the mic

Church leaders say DeSantis’ words encourage hate crimes

Lisa Lloyd (center) and Rev. Robyn Burnett read a cease-and-desist letter before it was left at Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Nyasia Haynes, a pre-med student at FAMU, called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to help stop the attack on Blacks in Florida.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
David Hogg (left) and Rev. William Barber II were in Tallahassee leading a call against hate crimes.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Anti-hate crime advocates clearly want Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis to know that they believe his rhetoric has become fuel for individual who perpetrate attacks on Blacks in the state.

They took their message to the governor’s office in the Capitol building last Friday. Led by Rev. William Barber II and other members of the clergy from around the country, a large group of marchers delivered a cease-and-desist letter to DeSantis.

First Presbyterian Church congregant Lisa Lloyd and Rev. Robyn Burnett, pastor at Allen Chapel AME in Pensacola, read the letter in the reception area of the governor’s office. The letter was addressed to DeSantis, other government officials and “any party who are using the words culture wars to attack Black people, immigrants (and) trans people.”

Marchers gathered at First Presbyterian Church, just north of the Capitol. Blown up copies of the letter to DeSantis were on each sides of the pulpit.

During a brief speech, Barber, a political activist and director at Yale Divinity School, was vehement in his remarks about mass shooting of Blacks.  He equated DeSantis’ rhetoric to that of former Alabama governor George Wallace, saying that he “triggered hate” with his words as a segregationist during his four terms in office.

Barber continued to make his point, saying how similar rhetoric used against integration led to an axe-handle attack on Black non-violent protesters in 1960. It also was the impetus for the bombing of a church where four little girls were killed in Birmingham in 1963, Barber said.

“The public mic is not supposed to be used to create discord and division,” Barber said.

DeSantis, who is campaigning to become president of the United States, has repeatedly denied he is fanning the flames of hate crimes. He’s been under fire since his appearance in Jacksonville at a vigil for three Black people killed by a gun man who wrote about killing Black people.

DeSantis was holding a press conference in Jacksonville a few weeks after the Aug. 26 shooting when a man in the crowd blamed the governor for the rise in hate crimes.

“I’m not going to let you accuse me of committing criminal activity,” DeSantis said. “I’m not going to take that.”

Before the marcher headed to the Capitol in Tallahassee, an impromptu service was held with Anne HK Apple, interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church, leading the way. They sang “I want Jesus to walk with me,” as if it were a prelude to the short walk they took along Adams Street to the Capitol.

They walked out of the church to the tune of “When the Saints go marching in,” which was performed on trumpet by Kujenga Ashe, a pastor who traveled from Columbus, Ohio.

Last Saturday, after marching to the Capitol, Barber led a similar event in Jacksonville for a march to City Hall. The two events were part of what organizers billed as “A time for truth and love: Take back the mic and be silent no more.”

The stance against hate speech was support by Repairers of the Breach, the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church.

In Tallahassee, the group left the governor’s office chanting “take back the mic.”

“Whether its hate against Black history, hate against immigrants, hate against gay people; it’s just wrong,” said Barber.

Barber, who uses two canes to get around and couldn’t walk with the marchers, spoke by phone to the group at the Capitol. Several others who were in the crowd at the governor’s office also stated their dissatisfaction with the spread of hate crimes.

“What this governor is doing is creating hostility, hatred and disharmony,” said Rev. RB Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, who has been outspoken against the governor’s policies. “We come to ask him to change his ways.

“You cannot get to the White House full of hate and division. We still believe that slavery did not benefit Black folks. Slavery benefitted the master and we are not going to let anyone water down Black history. History is our heritage, our hope and our sense of purpose. We come standing boldly, non-violently to say to this governor do the right thing and the right thing is changing your ways.”

The letter to DeSantis noted that he and the legislature approved voter restriction bills and anti-LGBTQ laws. Speakers also were intensely against the governor’s attack on education as well as diversity, equity and inclusion.

In part, the letter read: “History tells us that words of hate create an ethos of hate, an atmosphere of hate, a political social petri dish of hate. Eventually, spoken words become deeds.”

The letter also includes the names of Angela Michelle Carr, Jerald Gallion and Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr., the people killed at the Dollar General shooting in Jacksonville. Since that shooting, gunman Ryan Christopher Palmete has been identified as one who suffered with mental health issues.

Labeling mass shooters as people with mental illness is a misnomer, said David Hogg, a recent Harvard graduate who is a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Hogg was at the Florida school in Parkland when Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people and injured 17 others.

“Hatred is not a mental illness,” said Hogg, one of the founders of March for Our Lives. “I’m tired of seeing over and over again mental illness being used as a scapegoat.”

Better gun-control laws could have averted several of the mass shootings, including the ones in El Paso, Texas and Buffalo, New York, Hogg said. He insisted that most of those shootings are driven by hatred.

“This hatred did not die in the civil rights movement, unfortunately,” Hogg said. “This continues to this day. We see today the new Jim Crow in the form of racist gerrymandering.”

There are other issues that DeSantis should be focused on, Hogg and other speakers said.

Members of Repairers of the Breach also circulated a handout that highlighted issues they said the governor should make a priority. They include reference to more than nine million poor or low income Floridians who make up 44.5 percent of the population.

Other noted issues include the high cost of rent, loss of food stamps benefits, healthcare and climate change.

Those issues were among many that seemingly resonated with Nyasia Haynes, a 22-year-old pre-med student at FAMU. She and thousands of young people across the state have become supporters of the “take back the mic” campaign.

“As young people, we have a voice and they’re afraid of that voice,” she said, referring to policy makers. “They are targeting our vote because they know we will come out in (large) numbers.

“Whether you’re on the right side, left side, the middle side, or you identify as independent, liberal (or) conservative, right is right and wrong is wrong.”

Malik Ready, a Dream Defender leader, was there as supporter of Repairers of the Breach.

Ready, 24, called DeSantis “a fascist governor, one who uses his mic and platform to tell people like me and others that we must be silent. I come to say that Florida is still alive. WOKE does not die here.

“Tell us, governor DeSantis, why are you so much of a hater of people who are just trying to get ahead. Aren’t we in a country where everyone should be given the same rights and opportunities? When will we get to the place that Dr. King talked about that freedom should ring from every mountain top?”

Bishop Frank Reid suggested that marching should continue until things change.

“Business as usual is no longer accepted,” Reid said. “The reason I’m here is because hate has spread from Florida all over this nation.”

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