One-hundred and seventy Jaxsons have died this year to violence. The last time that many people died in a year in Jacksonville to violence was 1990, the year before I was born.

One of the biggest stories in Jacksonville, one that deserves more scrutiny and investigation, is why the city is failing to keep its residents safe. This is my first post for The Tributary. I’m going to include some updates on how things are going on forming the nonprofit below, but I wanted to share some insights about where the city is at as we enter what are typically the most violent weeks of the year.

Since 2012, we’ve seen the rate of homicides increasing, but what we’ve seen over the course of the last year is unlike anything we’ve seen in decades, and certainly not since a smaller spike in violence in the mid-2000s sparked Mayor John Peyton’s creation of Jax Journey.

We’re now on pace to surpass 1990’s 176 homicides reported by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Already, we’ve seen 170 homicides, and late December tends to be the most violent period of the year.

For Black men, the homicide rate is even more horrific. About one in 1,250 Black men who were alive in Jacksonville at the beginning of this year have been killed so far.

This year, 110 Black men have been killed so far, even as the number of white people killed has remained stable.

We are the seventh-most populous county in the state, and we have had the second-most homicides in the state every year since 2012.

We have been the murder capital of Florida since at least the 1990s with only one exception, the Pulse nightclub shooting of 2016 — the deadliest modern mass shooting at the time — caused Orange County to just slightly surpass Duval in 2016.

The cost of the violence also changes the way we handle government.

Pinellas County has more people than Duval, yet the county and its 26 city governments spent $216 million on law enforcement in 2018, compared to Duval County’s $422 million, according to data I analyzed from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

In Pinellas, where they spend half as much on policing, they’re able to spend four times as much on parks and recreation, three times as much on health, three times as much on economic development. They spend $15 million on housing out of their general fund, while we don’t spend anything in our general fund on housing.

You can find more comparisons in the Excel sheet I put together here.

Jacksonville began using Cure Violence last year, a campaign season promise from Mayor Lenny Curry, but so far just $1.8 million are spent each year on the program. The program treats violence as a contagion and relies on what it calls “credible messengers.” It specifically wants people who have experience with violence and long-standing relationships in a community, rather than outsiders from other neighborhoods, to intervene and stop retaliatory violence before it starts. It also is committed to working outside of the typical criminal legal system, which means when workers intervene, they are not supposed to be working with police.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville State Attorney’s Office, along with the Sheriff’s Office, is also using a more typical violence-reduction initiative that emphasizes the threat of harsh punishment. For the last four years, I tried to get the State Attorney’s Office to talk to me about this effort, but it refused to make prosecutors or police available for interviews.

I can at least talk about how the program, created by John Jay College’s David Kennedy, typically works. I’ve heard Kennedy speak, and I know how it was implemented in Chattanooga, a city where I interned as a cops reporter for six months in 2011. The program uses call-out meetings with suspected gang members and tells them they will go to prison if they don’t cooperate. It then tries to target uncooperative people with harsh prosecution, even for minor crimes. In Jacksonville, the focus is on gun-possession crimes, whether someone has a gun with a past criminal conviction or is illegally carrying a gun without a concealed weapon permit.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson has stripped her prosecutors of discretion in these types of cases, demanding they seek longer prison sentences. Prosecutors must get approval from a director if they want to depart from Nelson’s mandate.

Some of the recent police killings in Jacksonville come from this effort, where police have pulled over young men in Black-majority neighborhoods for minor traffic stops and then discovered they were illegally carrying weapons. This was the case for Jamee Johnson last year and Devon Gregory last month.

Start your week off…

With this good summary of the Lot J development issues from Chris Hong and David Bauerlein, my former colleagues at The Times-Union.

Tributary Updates

I plan to keep up weekly updates before the Tributary can officially launch. There are a few things I’m working on to get the Tributary set up.

The first step is to get a fiscal sponsorship from another nonprofit, like the Institute for Nonprofit News, where the Tributary would operate as a separate legal entity but essentially borrow another nonprofit’s 501c3 under a memorandum of understanding where it accepts and disburses donations. Or the Tributary could operate as a project of another nonprofit but not exist as a wholly separate legal entity.

The other major step I’m beginning to embark on is getting commitments from financial backers to support the Tributary. Already, about 160 people have bought paid subscriptions to the newsletter; this helps me when I go to larger foundations and convince them that the project is worth investment because it will survive in the long-run with reader support.

I’ve also already been able to put your donations to use, purchasing a domain name and setting up an email server. I also had to return the computer I used from the Times-Union, and your donations, combined with good Black Friday deals, helped me buy a new laptop.

If you have any thoughts on stories or issues you’d like me to cover in the interim, feel free to let me know!

Next week

I’m going to have a deeper look at what changes we’ve seen neighborhood by neighborhood in voting patterns in the 2020 election compared to 2018 and 2016.

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Andrew Pantazi is the founding editor of The Tributary. He and his wife, Lauren, are both Jacksonville natives raising their two sons in the city. You can contact him at Andrew.Pantazi@JaxTrib.org.

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