In February 2022, an employee of StorQuest Express, the self-storage facility on North Old Kings Road, discovered “white power” and swastikas graffitied on walls of the business. Surveillance video documented two white men in camouflage clothing and hoodies spraying the walls during the night of Feb. 7. The business wanted to pursue charges, but no one was identified to be charged.
Days earlier a Matanzas High School student reported to authorities that his father had brutalized him for wearing make-up and over his sexual orientation, allegedly choking him, slapping him and busting his lip open. The man’s father was charged with child abuse and battery by strangulation, both felonies. A little over two weeks later, the State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges.
The same month, dozens of anti-Semitic fliers were dropped on Palm Coast driveways–fliers similar to those dropped on driveways ion several other cities, and tied to pro-Trump, anti-Biden movements. No action was taken, since the fliers were considered to be protected by the First Amendment, and no one was personally threatened.
At FPC the next month, during a student walk-out organized in protest of the Legislature’s “don’t say gay” bill restricting discussions about non-binary gender in early grades, some students held up a Trump flag and yelled the word “faggot” at protesters, prompting one of them to grab and bring down the flag. The students who’d been holding it up then put her in what others described as a choke hold and calling her a “faggot.” Some students were suspended for a few days.
There was also the notorious late 2018 case of the then-FPC pair of students who chatted on a school-issued utility about a teacher as if they were to lynch her. The students were white, the teacher was Black. The case drew outrage and charges against one of the students–the other left the country–who was eventually found guilty of threatening to kill the teacher.
In the seven years that Rick Staly has been Flagler County’s sheriff, those cases are the official record of crimes that were or could be categorized as hate crimes (the child abuse case was never prosecuted as a hate crime. A Palm Coast teen-ager was attacked for being gay and his attacker was charged with a hate crime, but that 2022 incident took place at a shelter in Volusia County.) There had not been a crime classified as a hate crime in Flagler County between 2013 and 2017, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
On Sept. 28, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office was awarded a $355,000 federal grant to combat hate crimes in the county. The Sheriff’s Office announced the award this week. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Program grant was awarded through the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.
“This program is designed to provide support for efforts by state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecution agencies and their partners in conducting outreach, educating practitioners and the public, increasing victim reporting, and really developing bigger and better capacity to investigate and prosecute hate crimes,” Sunny Schnitzer, a policy advisor with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, said at an April webinar on the program.
“So some of the work that we support is focused on, for example, prevention, whether that’s awareness, sharing what hate looks like, identifying early signs, creating community capacity to address hate before it escalates to violence. Some of the programs that we fund really focus in on investigation,” Schnitzer continued. “They want to develop those tools not only of first responders, but of investigators to really dig in and be able to provide that really critical detail to the prosecutors who are working on these programs so that we can have successful prosecutions in these cases.”
In its application for the grant, the Sheriff’s Office said it would “develop a comprehensive approach to addressing hate crimes committed in Flagler County through enhancing agency investigation and reporting capabilities, as well as by forming partnerships with community stakeholders and educating these Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and Community Partners in identifying potential hate crimes and targeted violence prevention.”
The Sheriff’s Office will use the money to acquire software and databases “to monitor and document potential violent extremists and lone wolf threat actors” to enhance its existing Targeted Violence Prevention Program (TVPP). It will “monitor individuals on the pathway to violence,” and develop educational programs for community partners. “Expected outcomes include strengthened relationships between community stakeholders and law enforcement,” the application states, “increased collaboration between law enforcement and prosecuting agencies; and review and development of policies and procedures that foster increased reporting, identification, and charging of hate crimes leading to increased trust and confidence in the ability of FCSO to identify, investigate, and assist in the prosecution of hate crimes.”
“Flagler County was the last county in Florida to desegregate its schools. Today, there is no room for hate in our community,” Staly said in a statement with the grant’s announcement. “Our deputies are already on alert for any biased-based criminals and threats and our agency works hard to prevent targeted violence against anyone in our community and will not be tolerated.” Since 2020, the agency has has secured over $3.7 million in grants.
The Department of Justice grant takes its name from a federal law, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, that then-President Obama signed into law in October 2009. That law expanded a hate-crime law already on the books. Until then the law defined a hate crime as being motivated by racial, religious or ethnic prejudice. The expansion added gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
Shepard was a 21-year-old freshman at the University of Wyoming when, in October 1998–during Gay Awareness Week–two men kidnapped him, tied him to a ranch fence and beat him mercilessly. He died five days later. Byrd was a 49-year-old Black Texan three white supremacists tortured and dragged with their pick-up truck for three miles. Byrd was alive for half that distance.