On Sunday and Monday evening, Bunnell and European Village in Palm Coast will be the scene of separate events that tie into ongoing national movements on race, policing and, in this case, coexistence. Until today, organizers of the two events were not aware of each other’s efforts.
They are the latest in a spate of local initiatives that have sought to respond to shootings, by or of police, in various ways: the NAACP held a town hall meeting to address black concerns Tuesday, the Elks Lodge in Palm Coast held a candlelight vigil Thursday evening for the Dallas officers gunned down last week, and the sheriff’s office led the fourth of its One Common Ground meetings Thursday with school and police officials and community members.
Sunday evening at 6 p.m., people will gather at the Bunnell Community Center, also known as the Versie Lee Mitchell Community Center, at 405 East Drain Street, just east of the Carver Center, for a march to U.S. 1, East Moody Boulevard, Anderson Street and back to the community center, where several people will speak.
“The purpose is to bring the community together as a whole so we can start making changes and making our community better,” says Ras Nico, a Bunnell resident organizing the event with a Palm Coast resident. “People look at you as if you’re nothing because of the way the media portrays us. We’re portrayed as violent, uneducated. That’s not the case. We’re trying to portray to our kids that we’re greater than what they portray us as. So that’s what this is really for.” She added: “You can’t change how anybody sees you until you change how you portray yourself.”
Among the people invited to speak are the mother of Cory Tanner and Juanita Jenkins, the sister of John Stubbs. Tanner, 25, was on the run from police two years ago when the house where he was staying in Espanola was surrounded by U.S. marshals and a brief standoff ensued. Tanner was then gunned down as he was coming out of the house–rushing out, in U.S. marshal’s testimonies–though he was unarmed. Stubbs, a Marine veteran, was found murdered at his own doorstep in Bunnell last November. The case remains unsolved.
Part of the problem, Nico said, starts at home, where there’s been too much silence surrounding the murder. “This is one way to wake up the community, you want to protest about Black Lives Matter, but at the same time we lost a member of our community, and nobody says anything, nobody saw anything,” she said. “We’ve got to start at home.”
Sims Jones, a pastor who preaches in Bunnell, lives in Palm Coast, and is running for Palm Coast City Council, will also be attending the Bunnell event. To him, the event is directly tied to Black Lives Matter. “I’m going to be speaking about how there’s this country of ours it is still not looking at black people as equal,” Jones said, “and that the police department is still doing things to black people and getting away with it. The escalation has gone up.”
“I feel for those police officers who got killed,” Jones said of the five Dallas officers murdered by a black gunman on July 8–as police were providing protection for a Black Lives Matter march–but he said sending a remote-controlled robot equipped with a bomb to blow up the sniper was wrong. “That’s not due process,” he said. “This ain’t Beirut.”
Jones has not heard about the European Village event until he participated in a candidates’ forum Thursday evening. He said he’d be attending the event on Monday for fallen cops, but added: “How should I say this delicately. They’re having a fund-raiser for the fallen police officers, but who is looking after the families of those who got killed by police officers? Who’s collecting money for the man who got shot in the car with his family right there?”
Nevertheless, Jones said, “we have to work together. I’m part of One Common Ground, the clergy, the sheriff’s office, we’re all trying to work together with the people in the community. If we don’t do that it’s going to be worse, the schism between the people and law enforcement. I don’t want to see that. I’m worried now, if I just pulled over, what’s going to happen? We all have bad days. I don’t want something happen to me just because someone had a bad day.”
One Common Ground is a sheriff’s initiative started earlier this year that gathers members of the clergy, school officials, municipal police chiefs, students and others to exchange ideas and attempt to prevent tensions in the wake of events elsewhere such as police shootings or the shooting of officers. “We have to acknowledge we have issues before we can solve them” the sheriff said to the audience, according to a rel;ease issued this afternoon. Following the recent shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and then Dallas, Manfre said, “cooler heads must prevail and I believe they always will. Fear leads to hate and hate leads to violence Tragedy is a true tragedy if you don’t learn from it.”
During Thursday’s two-hour meeting, Manfre, Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster and Flagler County School Superintendent Jacob Oliva were asked about the racial makeup of each agency, as well as their recruitment efforts. Each explained the challenges they have to attract and keep black employees and emphasized the importance of partnering with the faith-based community. Other participants asked about the procedures for psychological evaluation of law enforcement officers, especially after crisis situations.
Linda Sharpe-Matthews, president of the Flagler County NAACP branch, and whose former husband was killed in the line of duty as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper in 2004, said “we’re not anti-police. We’re anti-violence. When we protest, we’re not protesting the Bunnell Police or Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. We’re protesting for equal rights.”
Sharpe-Matthews was part of a similar NAACP town hall on Tuesday that sought to tackle related issues and appease fears.
Meanwhile last Sunday, Scott Campion, owner of Cork and Pint at European Village–and the president of the European Village Business Association–was speaking with clients and friends during the village’s farmer’s market when, on the spur of the moment, the idea of a fund-raiser for the families of the Dallas officers came together. “It was spur of the moment,” Campion said.
“We were basically going to do just a little barbecue, because Monday is real quiet at the European Village, so we were thinking of doing a little barbecue, selling some hamburgers and hot dogs and whatnot,” Campion said, and donate the proceeds to the families through the Dallas Police Benevolent Association. He spoke about it with Heather Thompson, the event organizer who’s marketed the village’s farmer’s market. Thompson quickly got other businesses to join the effort, donating goods to be raffled off. It all snowballed very quickly into what appears to be a very large event. Campion now expects to see 500 to 1,000 people.
“It’s making me a little nervous, I’ll actually be buying a lot of food because we got a lot of positive support,” Campion said.
It’ll all start at 6 p.m. Monday. There’ll be music by Jim Lamb, the Ancient City Pipes and Drums and Kevin Quinn. The prizes include a round of golf at Hammock Beach Resort, dinners, gift certificates and the like. Chinese lanterns will also be lit.
“The purpose of this event is to not only to honor the men and women whose lives were lost in Dallas, Texas, but it’s also for us to thank our men in blue who risk their lives to protect Flagler County,” Thompson said.
Thompson cautioned political candidates, who tend to swarm at these events, to leave their signs and their campaign paraphernalia out of the European Village. “Absolutely not, absolutely not, I will stop them at the door,” Thompson said. “That’s the last thing that we want for Monday, it’s not about them.”
Campion moved up from Miami eight years ago. He’s worried about what he sees as the “difficult rap” police have been getting, when the numerous police officers he knows in Palm Coast all revile drawing their gun, and many never have in long careers. “‘We do not like to shoot, we never have to draw our weapons or fire our weapons,'” Campion says, quoting the sort of things he hears retired cops tell him. “Anybody that’s killed, it’s terrible if you ever get in that situation. There’s guys on the police force 30, 40 years, they’re never in a situation like that.”
He continued, “I’m a couple of years away from 50, it just seems like the country racially is so far apart, it’s just a shame.” When told of the Bunnell event, he immediately said he’d want to reach out to the organizer, support her and perhaps be at the event itself as well to support it. “This isn’t about one side or another. I think on all ends we need to somehow try to end this, what’s going on in the country.”
Heather Thompson, organizing Monday’s event at European Village, is still accepting sponsoring businesses or donors. Reach her at 770/310-9123.