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Tallahassee's NAACP president reacts to the mass shooting in Jacksonville

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

We are continuing to follow updates from Jacksonville, Fla. A gunman there opened fire over the weekend in a mass shooting, killing three people and then himself. All of those who were killed were Black, and the shooter, who was white, posted his racist views online. The Justice Department is now investigating this shooting as a hate crime. And this is happening against a backdrop of political tension around the state of Florida. As Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, prepared to address the community at a prayer vigil on Sunday, the crowd began to boo - some people yelling that his policies were to blame for the shooting. Let's bring in Mutaqee Akbar, president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. Welcome back to the program.

MUTAQEE AKBAR: Thank you for having me.

SUMMERS: So I just want to start with your reaction to this shooting. What have you been hearing from those around you as more details have come to light here?

AKBAR: The reaction is sad. It's troubling. And it brings on a sense of anger also, that these types of heinous acts are still happening in 2023.

SUMMERS: As we mentioned earlier, Governor DeSantis was booed at that prayer vigil on Sunday, and people in the crowd were putting blame on his policies. And we should just point out here is Governor DeSantis has loosened state gun laws in Florida. He's curbed efforts to teach Black history in the state's public schools. And when he was being booed at that vigil, Councilwoman Ju'Coby Pittman stepped in to stop the crowd, essentially saying that a bullet doesn't know a party. What were your reactions to that moment and Councilwoman Pittman's response there?

AKBAR: I think that the boos that were heard is the sentiment of a lot of the community that, you know, what's been going on for the last six years almost, with what they call these culture wars and these - the woke laws and everything, has been an assault on minority people. And what it has done is has kind of emboldened those people, like this shooter, to claim that Black people are taking jobs, that Black people are getting special treatment, whether it's DEI legislation or, you know, other types of legislation. And what we've been saying all along when it comes to teaching Black history, when it comes to the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, all of those things - to fight against them kind of lessens our worth and also causes people to have the type of hate that can go into a Dollar General and shoot people just because of the color of their skin.

SUMMERS: Right. I want to push a little bit here because in the wake of this shooting, we heard Governor DeSantis call this gunman's actions absolutely unacceptable. And we heard him say that people in the state of Florida should not be targeted based on their race. He's come out against this. And given that, is it fair to link curricula in schools to a violent mass shooting like the one that we saw over this weekend?

AKBAR: Rhetoric is rhetoric. Whether you are spewing rhetoric as the governor or you're spewing rhetoric as, you know, somebody who is a gun-toting racist, it's the same - what we feel like, you know, hate and racism. And we've seen it throughout the state. You know, we have Nazis holding up flags saying that this is DeSantis' country. We have Nazis protesting outside of Disney because DeSantis is making claims against Disney.

Of course he's going to show up at a press conference and make those statements, especially as running for president. But there have been a number of times throughout the years that he should have called out their racist behavior. And he never called it out until, you know, this weekend when he was pretty much forced to. And even then, he couldn't muster up the language to call this person a racist. He called him a scumbag, which is, you know, OK. But, like, let's call it what it is. Let's call it racist. Let's call it racism. Let's call it hate. And let's teach what's going on the real way in these schools so we can't repeat history. Otherwise we will repeat history. And that's a part of what we saw this weekend.

SUMMERS: I mean, we have - this is unfortunately a sad ritual where we have conversations with folks like yourself after tragic shootings like the one over the weekend. From your view, what can be done to address a shooting such as this one in which we have seen these racist writings from the shooter, three Black victims killed? What's the solution here?

AKBAR: That's a difficult question because it's trying to put a rational thought to irrational behavior. And that's the same thing we've been dealing with, I think, with this legislation and this whole idea of being woke and everything. So I do think we need to stop the rhetoric, stop the hate, stop this idea of being woke all of a sudden means division. And let's move towards community. Let's move towards unity and, at the same time, discuss the realities of history; at the same time, discuss these ideas and policies that need to be put in place, that put Black people and the Black community at equal footing as everybody else because of all that we've endured and still enduring. So I think moving forward with equality.

SUMMERS: We've been speaking with Mutaqee Akbar, president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP. Thank you so much for being here.

AKBAR: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Jeanette Woods
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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