Pamela A. Zeiser By: Pamela A. Zeiser
Associate Professor of Political Science
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21 Jul 2020 : Jacksonville, FL: Sheriff says 'not ready' for Republican National Convention

My latest installment in the continuing saga of the Republican National Convention, planned for in-person in Jacksonville, FL during late August:

On Monday July 20, Jacksonville’s elected Sheriff Mike Williams announced that he cannot provide for community or convention safety, due to lack of time, money, and personnel.

Williams stated that a $50 million federal grant has been cut to $33 million and that the conditions attached to the funding make securing contracts difficult. Jacksonville requested 2000 officers from other counties in Florida; only 500 have signed up, due largely to concerns about financial reimbursement.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Republicans have not yet announced (publicly or, it appears, privately to the Sheriff’s office) where events will be held. Last we heard from the host committee, it was likely going to be a mix of indoor and outdoor venues, with Trump's acceptance speech outdoors. Outdoor venues require more police personnel.

The Mayor’s Office later issued a statement that they were aware of the Sheriff’s concerns and have been working with the Sheriff’s office as well as state and federal law enforcement to ensure safety. No further information or specifics were provided in the statement.

The President of Jacksonville’s City Council, Tommy Hazouri, praised the Sheriff for his public admission and questioned when (or if) the Sheriff would feel ready – for an event just over one month away.

In Jacksonville, the Mayor and the elected Sheriff are both powerful political figures. Both are Republicans. Responses from local journalists and pundits range from surprise at the “extraordinary” admission from the Sheriff and implied divide between the two leaders to analyses that this is some sort of “gamesmanship” arranged between them. On that, speculations include a bid for pressure to ramp up funding or allowing the Mayor to use safety (instead of public health) as political cover for cancelling the event.

Social media has connected this announcement to the events in Portland where, against local and state wishes, unidentified federal officers are removing peaceful protestors from the streets into unmarked vans, using (locally-banned) tear gas, and federal officers are accused of violating civil rights and using unlawful tactics. And, social media in Jacksonville is linking the Sheriff’s announcement to a July 20 New York Times article alleging that Trump has ordered federal officers to other Democratic cities . . . Jacksonville is NOT a Democratic city but fears are rising that federal/Department of Homeland Security forces could be deployed here during the convention and that they will use the same extra-ordinary tactics being seen in Portland.

The Sheriff’s announcement coincides with another increase in State of Florida Coronavirus cases of over 10,000 on Monday July 20, and a total of over 17,000 cases (13.6% positivity rate) in Jacksonville/Duval County, as reported by the Florida Times-Union. The State teacher’s union yesterday filed a lawsuit against the governor, who is requiring all public K-12 schools to open five-days-a-week in person despite increasing community case loads in many parts of the state. The governor cited President Trump’s desire for national reopening as his reason for the decree.

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