JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Eleven days ago, demonstrators demanding change in Jacksonville were met with police in riot gear and officers in armored vehicles.
Tear gas was fired. Officers were injured. Arrests were made.
The vibe was very different Tuesday, more collegial than confrontational.
Demands for change were accepted -- even embraced -- by the same city officials who have been under fire, including Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams.
“Look around this group, you see a cross-section of our city,” Williams said in a brief speech on the steps of City Hall. “We have challenges in this city we have to work on, and I stand before you today that I’ll always listen to the community. I’ll always work with the community.”
While the sheriff's minute-long speech was short on specifics, several protesters took Williams at his word. “We are glad to see our sheriff, glad to see our mayor out here,” said a protester named Jacob, saying their presence made him feel heard.
“They’re hearing us protest,” he said, marching ahead of two uniformed officers. “This is what we asked for. It's all we ask for -- to have the same rights as anyone else.”
Protester Tallia Lee was one of many calling for specific policy changes to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the black community.
“I can only hope it means real change and implementing policies to protect us and actually help us and be on our side,” she said.
Lee has marched many times before -- “for Trayvon Martin, for Sandra Bland” -- and expects to march again. “It’s been happening for my entire life, and my mother’s entire life, and my grandmother’s entire life. So I don’t think it’s going to die down.”
Like many at the protest, she said this is not a moment but a movement – one that will require sustained effort to create change. “I would like for justice,” she said. “I would like policemen to be regulated more and better -- more extensive training and screening so we aren’t dealing with lunatics, or people with racist agendas -- and police our community in healthy ways.”
She added, “I don’t think racism is ever going to be depleted 100%, but what we can do is do our part to make sure it isn’t as systemic as it is right now.”