Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly grabbed national headlines for controversial policies that negatively impact Black people in the state, as he brands himself the far right-wing candidate for president.
Black leaders there say his policies and rhetoric have created a climate that led to the racist mass shooting Saturday (Aug. 26), in which a white man with a swastika painted on his assault rifle fatally shot three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville.
“We’ve given warnings — don’t pass this legislation because it will only inflame tensions, don’t pass this bad bill because it will promote vigilantism, don’t do this because it will divide our communities. He has courted support from the far right. He plays footsies with it. This rhetoric was always going to lead to violence,” Florida State House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell told the Associated Press.
DeSantis who was booed Sunday (Aug. 27) at a vigil for the victims, is a former three-term congressman who stepped into the national spotlight during his 2018 gubernatorial race against Andrew Gillum, the former Tallahassee mayor and Florida’s first major party Black candidate for governor. He is also attempting to win the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 2024 but is polling far behind former president Donald Trump.
DeSantis stirred controversy when he allegedly blew a racist dog whistle, using the racist epithet “monkey,” during a Fox News interview. “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” DeSantis said of Gillum, The New York Times reported.
As governor, DeSantis has a track record of pushing policies that his white far-right voter base favors, including abolishing diversity and inclusion programs. His handiwork includes legislation
dubbed the Stop W.O.K.E. Act. It restricts how race is discussed in state schools, including universities, and in companies. Most recently, he defended a new education curriculum that says there were benefits to slavery.
In the wake of the mass shooting, Black leaders have questioned DeSantis’ sincerity in denouncing the racist attack.
“He refuses to use the word Black. He refuses to call that man a racist. He calls him a scumbag. No! He’s tiptoeing around the true issue because he’s worried that his poll numbers will drop with the base of voters that he has religiously went after,” state Rep. Angie Nixon, who represents Jacksonville, told the AP.
National Black leaders have also warned about the dangers of DeSantis’ policies and rhetoric, which include denying that systemic racism exists today and loosening gun control laws. In May, the NAACP issued a formal travel advisory for Florida.
"Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color," a statement from the civil rights organization said.
The AP reports that DeSantis rejects claims that he contributed to a climate that led to the shooting.
“This shooting was a terrible tragedy, and it is reprehensible that The Associated Press has decided to collect and amplify false talking points as ‘reporting’ on this horrific event,” said DeSantis campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin. “Ron DeSantis has condemned these racially motivated murders repeatedly in the strongest language possible. … He will not tolerate racial hatred or violence in Florida, and we reject your politicization of this horrible event.”
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