By Scott Butler, Jacksonville Florida Times-Union

In the last five years, Jacksonville has done little to detach itself from its reputation as the murder capital of Florida, reaching at least 150 homicides for the fourth time after not exceeding that amount in more than a decade.

Monday a large group of interfaith leaders is inviting the community and its elected officials to a discussion about the violence in Jacksonville.

Called ICARE (Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment) the group represents nearly 40 congregations across Duval County. It’s “Stakeholder Meeting” will be at 6:30 p.m. at Christ the King Catholic at 742 N. Arlington Road.

“We want to hear from our community stakeholders about the impact of gun violence on everyone in our community — especially children, families, schools, hospitals, businesses and congregations,” the group said. “We have invited the mayor, state attorney, sheriff and City Council members and other community stakeholders to attend or have representatives speak at this event. We want to extend an invitation to anyone in our community who is concerned about violence to be a part of this discussion.”

ICARE cites that the city has the 23rd highest murder rate out of the 75 largest cities in the U.S. The Sheriff’s Office lists 124 people murdered last year, and that’s not counting justifiable homicides like self-defense that increased the total to 157.

“These were overwhelmingly Black men and boys, over half under the age of 30,” ICARE said. “We are deeply saddened by the destruction and pain felt by people in our community.”

The Times-Union has chronicled the death toll for years and maintains a database that shows 129 of the 157 victims in 2023 were Black. Of the 54 suspects arrested on murder or manslaughter charges, 44 also were Black.

Sheriff T.K. Waters, who’s in his second year as the city’s top law enforcement officer, declined to be interviewed for the Times-Union’s annual yearend homicide story. His office advised he intended to have a media briefing in early to mid-January about the numbers and that questions could be asked then. That never happened.

The Sheriff’s Office said he will not be attending ICARE’s program.

However, Jacksonville is off to one of its safest starts to a new year with only nine homicides so far, compared to 26 at the same time last year. That’s even less than the 12 homicides at that point in 2011 when the city had its lowest total of 86 killings in the 20 years the Times-Union has kept records.

The names of stakeholders who have agreed to speak at Monday’s gathering are listed below.

  • Monsignor James Boddie, Christ the King Catholic Church
  • The Rev. Victor Cole, Historic Mt. Zion AME
  • The Rev. Willie Barnes, St. Paul AME
  • Deacon Charles Warren, Second Missionary Baptist
  • Harold Craw, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
  • Lloydette Noisette, Abyssinia Missionary Baptist
  • Robin Clemons, Families of Slain Children
  • Jean Francis, Moms Demand Action
  • Rebecca Melvin, paramedic
  • Stephanie Skinner, Child Guidance Center
  • Bill Dobscha, head of security, bestbet
  • Principal Kimberly Brown, Northwest Legends Elementary
  • Warren Jones, Duval County School Board
  • Charles Griggs, Jacksonville Mayor’s Office
  • State Attorney Melissa Nelson, 4th Judicial Circuit
  • The Rev. Adam Gray, Riverside Church at Park and King

Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment

ICARE is comprised of 38 congregations in Duval County and is now in its 17th year. Combined, its congregations represent about 30,000 residents from a broad cross-section of the Jacksonville community. Its mission is to address citywide concerns related to issues of justice and fairness.

“We are a direct action organization not a direct service organization,” according to its website. “We use our collective people power to press our elected officials and other city leaders on county-wide solutions to the problems that plague our community: crime, the low graduation rate, homelessness, jobs and other community concerns.”

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