When Howard students heard of the recent shooting at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida, that killed three people, many students expressed their shock and disbelief, but students who call the coastal city ‘home’ revealed how they are personally affected by the incident.
Authorities asserted that on Aug. 26, the main targets of the gunman, 21-year-old Ryan Christopher, were people in the Black community of Jacksonville.
Along with the belief that it’s racially motivated, Jacksonville investigators believe the motives were tied to the anniversary of another shooting in 2018 at a video game tournament, as indicated by notes left behind by the gunman.
“It was actually really scary because that was the area I had grown up in,” DeeAndre Carter, a junior double majoring in sociology and psychology, said. “My father’s father passed him down a house and this was a Dollar General I had been to many times. It was eye-opening to think my family could have been in there at that time.”
“My first reaction was, ‘Again?’ because things like this doesn’t happen all the time but it happens all the time,” Faith Sampson, a sophomore chemical engineering major from Jacksonville said.
The Aug. 26 shooting comes after Florida’s changes to gun legislation. According to the Pensacola News Journal, the Florida Senate voted that residents can legally carry a firearm in certain areas without a permit beginning July 1, making Florida the 26th state to allow permitless carry of firearms.
Despite the incident, both students described Jacksonville as a tight-knit and supportive community and remarked on the efforts made by residents to be a positive force of change.
“Jacksonville is a very big city, but everyone knows everyone…a small town, big city,” Samspon continued. “You played around outside with the neighborhood kids, you were either at your grandma’s house or someone else’s house…For the most part, it was pretty safe.”
“I believe my community back home is trying to focus on the safety of college students,” Jasmine Ferguson, a junior political science major and Jacksonville native, said.
“My family is doing everything they can to help,” Ferguson said. “Really just trying to protect college students.”
“This incident is a painful reminder of the ongoing challenges our society faces in terms of gun violence and racial discrimination,” the Howard University Florida club said in a statement, posted on Instagram the day following the shooting.
“We stand together with the Jacksonville community, holding them in our thoughts and prayers. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we engage in the conversations that promote empathy, healing, and the dismantling of systemic inequalities,” the statement continued.
The three victims are identified as Angela Michelle Carr, 52, Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr., 19, and Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, 29.
The Jacksonville community has called for tightening legislation and rapid changes to ensure that community members can feel safe and protected.
“Violence has no place in our society,” the Howard University administration announced in a school-wide email last Monday. The email condemned the Jacksonville shooting and left words of encouragement for the Howard community.
“While these incidents may feel commonplace across our country and increasingly so on college campuses,” the email said, signed by Marcus Lyles, executive director of the Howard University Department of Public Safety and Chief of Police. “We will not be desensitized to our obligations of preparation, mindfulness of our environment, and stabilizing our infrastructure against such incidents.”
Along with the efforts of the residents of Jacksonville, Florida, the students emphasized the importance of Howard’s community taking action themselves and giving support beyond this incident.
“I don’t want Jacksonville to be put on the map just for the violence,” Sampson said. “I feel like there are a lot of great people that come out of Jacksonville.” Sampson goes on to note that the city is home to a lot of Black history including the composer of Lift Every Voice and Sing, known to many as the Black national anthem.
“We have a lot of better history than just this shooting,” she continued.
Florida is still recuperating from Hurricane Idalia, which recently reached Category 4, and swept across the state the past two days yet Jacksonville is still pushing for change within their community.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew