The recent killing of Corey Jones by a plain clothes police officer is another tragic indication of Florida’s violent landscape against blacks. Indeed, Jones, a Black public-housing inspector and part-time musician, was waiting for a tow truck when he was shot multiple times by Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja. The incident turned deadly when Rjaa, an untrained officer still on probation conducting “surveillance” operations, approached Jones and fatally shot him to death. According to Raja, the only remaining witness, he was “suddenly confronted by an armed subject” and had to repeatedly shoot the stranded motorist, Jones. But what role did cultural and geographical practices in creating institutional “whiteness” and a fear of “Blackness” play in the killing?
Florida actually has a lengthy violent geographical history of “under the radar” racial killings, most unmarked to this day. Not only did authorities oversee the near extermination of the Native American Seminole Nation but was responsible for erasing entire Black towns, perhaps as many as 40. In 1923, for instance, Rosewood was a thriving Black community until Fanny Taylor, a white woman living in nearby Sumner, claimed a Black man assaulted her. Although evidence pointed toher husband’s abusive nature, Sumner’s sheriff deputized a posse of scores of whites to search for a Black convict recently escaped from a road crew. Unable to locate him, whites concluded that Blacks in Rosewood were protecting him and marched on the Black community.
In addition to no evidence and false assumptions, whites tried forcing their way into several Black houses where they suspected the accused was secreted. A gun battle ensued killing several Blacks and two whites. The next day, hundreds of whites converged on Rosewood. They burned every Black home to the ground and killed numerous people. Fleeing Blacksurvivors hid out in the swamps for days, only to be murdered when they emerged. An investigation (which finally occurred in 1994!) found that state and local officials had sufficient time and opportunity to act to prevent the tragedy, and nonetheless failed to act. Moreover, the perpetrators were never brought to justice, reinforcing and promoting an entrenched ideology that African-American lives don’t matter.
Consequently, Florida’s violent landscape took many forms other than Rosewood or the recent killings of Jones and Trayvon Martin-a 17-year-old Black fatally shot under the controversial stand-your-ground laws. In effect, the 2000 presidential election purposively obstructed and prevented thousands of Black voters from casting their ballots. Not only did roadblocks and long lines thwart some from voting, but broken machines spoiled many of their ballots. As a result, the Bush Dynasty and then-Gov. George W. Bush from Texas seized power. (Recall Jeb Bush, Bush’s brother, was governor of Florida.) Accordingly, so-called democratic institutions can hold a gun to the heads of certain racial groups by conferring political disadvantages, even making it difficult to vote.
In reality, Florida’s geographical shape mirrors that of a hand gun; the northwest panhandle appearing as the grip, the long and narrow peninsula that jettisons southward forming the barrel, and the erratic upturn in the northeast resembling a trigger. Likewise, Florida’s violent terrain has triggered other acts of racial and political cleansing. Along with General Andrew Jackson’s destruction of Negro Fort, massacring all inside, the Black part of Ocoee was destroyed in 1920 after two Blacks dared to try and vote. Moreover, Florida led the United States in the rate at which it lynched Blacks in the nadir of race relations, from 1890 to 1920 and beyond. Again, Florida’s violent landscape has always obscured the existence and the destructive consequences of white identity.
With the killing of Jones, it appears Florida is still struggling with its violent and racial landscape, namely a past filled with ethnic killings. In fact, the investigation into Jones death shows how the officer violated a golden rule of police work by not identifying himself in the early morning hours, a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mentality. Meanwhile, the deaths of Rosewood and Jones and Martin have been forgotten. Sadly, the only thing that marks Rosewood today is simple signs with no hint of violence or racial cleansing. Nor are there any memorial markers where Jones and Martin were gunned down, all three racial cleansings being overgrown by the weeds of forgetfulness and white images of privilege and dominance.
To unravel the violent landscapes of political disenfranchisement and racially motivated cleansings, Florida will have toconfront its selective views of the past wrapped in mythical narratives of “whiteness.” Next, both Florida and the US should confront their “historical oversights” (imposed by authorities) and unresolved meanings of racial conflicts that point towards brutal acts of ethnic cleansing and killings. In addition, the United States’ racist character-still in effect-will have to be recognized and transformed, individual perpetrators and racial institutions required to seek revolutionary forgiveness while rejecting over-militarization and over-policing. Finally, an equalized landscape showing it was always a “white” problem instead of a “Black” problem is in order.
Just as the Black Lives Matter Movement is necessary for a more equitable future, so, too, are historical markers that reveal violent and racially motivated landscapes, generational sins of ethnic cleansing and political disenfranchisement. Only then will Florida and the United States be able to move forward, seeking forgiveness and healing while pursuing amore just and equitable society.
2. Lowewn, James. Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999., p.
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