Gov. DeSantis receives cease and desist letter for spewing hate

In the aftermath of the Jacksonville murders, Florida leaders say DeSantis and state lawmakers are to blame for their "divisive rhetoric."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers were handed a cease and desist letter by young activists, faith leaders and community members in the aftermath of the murders of three Black people in Jacksonville

The demonstrators, including college students from across Florida, say they delivered the letter to put DeSantis and the GOP-controlled state legislature on notice for spewing hate with their “divisive rhetoric” and “culture wars.”

A demonstrator in Jacksonville, Florida, holds a sign referencing Gov. Ron DeSantis during an August rally against white supremacy after the racially motivated murder of three Black people at a Dollar General store. Activists and other community members accuse DeSantis of stoking the flames of racism. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

“The rhetoric is dangerous,” Bishop William Barber, one of the lead organizers of the Friday demonstration and president of Repairers of the Breach, told theGrio. “We know history enough to know that when you have this kind of rhetoric, it creates an ethos in the atmosphere that creates situations where violence occurs.”

On Aug. 26, a white gunman fatally shot three Black people at a Dollar General, devastating the Jacksonville community. Online writings from the gunman confirmed he “hated Black people,” according to reports. 

DeSantis, who is leading an “anti-woke” policy agenda in Florida that includes banning African-American history in classrooms and books by Black authors, was booed by community members in Jacksonville during a vigil mourning the three victims. Many Floridians believe DeSantis is to blame for the racist attack.

“Republicans and Governor DeSantis can say whatever they want to say … you probably have not pulled the trigger, but you definitely are the ones who have allowed them to make it seem pulling the trigger is the right thing to do,” said Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing Broward County in Miami.

“They are the ones who have pushed these culture wars for the past two to three years,” he told theGrio.

Delivery of a cease and desist letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (above) is part of a two-day demonstration led by Bishop William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. (Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Friday’s cease and desist letter delivery is part of a two-day demonstration led by Barber and several groups, including March for Our Lives, a student-led organization advocating for gun control legislation. The demonstration will include a “Take Back the Mic” march to the state capitol on Saturday. 

Barber, the co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told theGrio he was invited by local clergymen to join the community in Florida to speak out against DeSantis, his rhetoric and policies, supported by a super-majority Republican state legislature, that they say harm Black and brown people, poor people, LGBTQ people, women and immigrants.

Instead of focusing on using their legislative powers to pass laws against Black and other marginalized groups, the activists and community leaders say, DeSantis and lawmakers should focus more on addressing critical issues impacting communities like poverty, gun violence, voter suppression and a lack of health care.

“This is what we ought to be dealing with,” said Barber, who noted that there are 7 million poor “low wealth” voters in Florida and 4 million people who make less than $15,000. “But no, you want to divide, deflect and distract and use the kind of language that creates hostility and social turmoil rather than social justice.”

Jones said Republicans, who have “been in charge for 25 years,” are why Florida is “in the position that it’s in right now.”

The lawmaker said his colleagues across the political aisle also are why millions of Floridians can’t afford to live there and why people continue to die at the hands of gun violence.

“The gun laws in Florida are reckless,” Jones said of his state, where DeSantis signed permitless carry gun legislation into law this year and has said he supports open carry.

People take part in a March for Our Lives rally in Los Angeles on March 24, 2018, in response to the shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. March for Our Lives, a student-led group that advocates for gun control, is among the organizations serving Florida’s governor with a cease and desist letter. (Photo: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“You would have thought after Pulse … after Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and all of the other murders that have happened … that in a bipartisan way, we would have stood together,” he continued, “to make sure that this state is safe.”

When it comes to race, DeSantis has been accused of stoking the flames of racism in the Sunshine State and inspiring other Republican leaders across the country to adopt similar policies. In addition to his “anti-woke” agenda, the governor has been repeatedly called out for not denouncing white nationalist protests in Florida. 

During one demonstration near Disney, white men in masks were seen waving Nazi flags, and at least one of them reportedly brandished a DeSantis 2024 presidential campaign flag.

“All they want to ensure is that [they] have [their] base, and that’s why Governor DeSantis and the Republicans don’t really denounce these types of things,” Jones told theGrio. “They believe that this is their way of holding on to power.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a crowd in April 2022 before publicly signing the “stop woke” bill, legislation that his detractors see as aiding an environment of divisiveness. (Photo: Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP, File)

Leaders and organizers in Florida hope that the outrage on the ground translates to more Floridians registering to vote and casting their ballots in 2024 to elect leaders who will address the economic and social issues they say are crippling Black, brown and other marginalized groups.

“While we’re nonpartisan, we’re going to encourage people to be engaged politically,” said Barber. “Part of taking back the mic is you have to raise your voice and your votes.”

Jones told theGrio he believes there are enough Democrats and Republicans in Florida and across the country who are tired of the culture wars and “desire to move away from what they are seeing.”

“The pendulum will swing back … and it will swing back in the favor of what’s right [and] what’s fair,” he predicted. “Because the direction that Republicans are going in is not sustainable, and they know it’s not sustainable.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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