Members of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and leaders in the local LGBTQ+ community sat down together for a "listening session" in an effort to open lines of communication for the future.
This is in response to the rash of murders which have taken place against African-American members of the LGBTQ+ community since the beginning of the year:
February 4: Celine Devonne Walker, 36, was found shot dead at the Extended Stay America hotel in the Southpoint area.
June 1: Antash’a English, 38, died at the hospital after being shot between two abandoned homes in the 1500 block of Ella Street early that morning.
July 19: Jessie Sumlar, 30, was found dead inside his Northside apartment.
Sheriff Mike Williams announced during this forum that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has formed a new LGBTQ+ liaison task force comprised of nine officers. The hope is that the task force will open lines of communication between the LGBTQ+ community and police.
The Sheriff said, "If we had the liaison team six months ago, we may not be here."
Members of the community could approach a microphone to speak for three minutes and were asked to consider three questions:
What are your concerns when reporting a crime?
What are your expectations of the LGBT liaison team?
What are the next steps in moving forward?
After one woman's three minutes, some 10-15 people left the venue in solidarity of the idea that this forum was a media opportunity for JSO and would not result in change.
The speakers took the time to address that the community has experienced loss and may not be ready to talk. But some members were, like Pastor Valerie Williams who said that whenever the police were willing to listen to the community, she would speak.
Neither the sheriff nor members of the LGBT task force directly address the concerns raised by the community, but Chloie Kensington of the Stiletto SIsters Society spoke directly to the crowd during the closing statements.
Kensington said she was friends with Antash'a English, a trans woman who was murdered in June. She said she began Stiletto Sisters because of Antash'a's death. Her message to the community was to embrace change and understand that progress, no matter how small, is still progress.
Sheriff Mike Williams thanked everyone for coming and said that the LGBT liaison group and the community would be working together to make sure concerns were addressed. He also stated that none of these crimes are connected, a concern of many in the community. He said not even two of the crimes appear to be connected based on forensics and witness statements.