JustJax was an initiative launched to determine the feasibility of and next steps toward the creation of community-and data-driven policies focused on reducing violence in Jacksonville and enhancing public safety. From its inception, as JustJax staff members we recognized the complexity of the task before us. Our final product could not be simply calls for additional law enforcement or policing tactics. The etiology of the issues ran much deeper and included things such as adequate access to physical and mental healthcare and questions regarding community cohesion.
Our work began in September 2020 after receiving a planning grant from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund under the auspices of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida’s Commission on Prison and Related Ministries. The initiative was co-led by the Rev. Allison DeFoor, Deborrah Fabian, and Dr. Paula Horvath, each of whom brought decades of experience to the project. Completing the JustJax team was Lynden Fausey, a project intern from Emory University, whose focus is on the law and criminal justice.
From the outset, we recognized that while there had been numerous citywide examinations of the issues surrounding public safety, most had focused on the participation of a recurring group of primary stakeholders. This group historically had ranged from law enforcement officers and criminal justice stakeholders to service providers and business leaders. The people too often missing from this information-gathering were the precise community residents personally affected by crime. This is the segment of the population that was then added to the JustJax initiative.
The notion of who had been excluded from previous efforts was soon borne out in our conversations with respondents. As one person, who had served on previous violence commissions within the city, put it when interviewed by JustJax: “One problem is that (these task forces and commissions) have been filled primarily with privileged, educated members and not ‘ordinary’ people or people from the community.”
Another JustJax respondent was even more blunt. “Past efforts to stem violence in Jacksonville feel very much like colonialism in which White people go in to tell Black people what they need to do rather than listening to what the affected people say is needed.”
Although on the surface it may seem redundant to go beyond the traditional stakeholders in examining public safety issues and policy – they are the “experts,” after all – the JustJax team believed it was essential to expand the scope of inquiry. Yes, the recognized criminal justice stakeholders carry out this work and deal with these issues on a daily basis. But often it is precisely their deep investment that may cloud their ability to see and recognize patterns, holes, disparities, and even successes. We felt their perspectives would be necessary in our study, but not sufficient.
That is precisely why we worked hard to include the too-often-ignored community perspectives of residents and other affiliated with the violence-affected communities. These are the people who have experienced first-hand the results of violent crime and public safety policies – often as both perpetrators and victims. Yet these are often the people who’ve been excluded from the table when discussing issues. Those who exist deep within the targeted communities are not the people asked to serve on task forces, they’re often not asked for their perspectives, nor are they asked to become active participants in problem solving.
And, when community members are occasionally included within public forums, they often feel uncomfortable speaking openly before others. To ensure that didn’t happen in the JustJax initiative, the team decided upon two procedures to guarantee community participants’ comfort with the information-gathering process. First, all interviews would be conducted one on one with only the participants and the interviewer(s) present. Second, participants would be offered promises of confidentiality when necessary.
What we believed in then – and are absolutely more confident of now – is the crucial part that individual narratives will play in our project, especially those from community individuals. It’s these voices, according to Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, that give insight and the kind of compassion and mercy that empowers change.
“An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
JustJax relied upon two different information pools to arrive at its recommendations. The primary data were gathered specifically for this report. This data was collected from hour-long interviews with 104 people in the Jacksonville community (names provided in Appendix A of this report). JustJax specifically sought input from informants who live in or were affiliated with the violence-affected neighborhoods in Jacksonville.
Respondents included individuals with special knowledge of or expertise in public safety, individuals from traditional Jacksonville institutions (JSO, city government, the judicial system, the schools), individuals who had worked with previous task forces and commissions on public safety and violence, individuals within the medical community, individuals within the mental health community, individuals within the minority community, individuals within the nonprofit community, and individuals who live or grew up within the violence-affected neighborhoods
Both an introductory script (Appendix B) and list of potential questions (Appendix C) were prepared prior to the interviews. The list of potential questions was long and not all respondents were asked the same questions. Instead, the JustJax interviewers attempted to ask questions pertinent to the expertise/reasons the person was selected for this study. All interviews were recorded (all with the express permission of the respondents) and field notes were prepared following each interview to summarize the respondents’ answers. All interviews were conducted either via telephone or Zoom. While the vast majority of the interviews were conducted one-on-one, with only a single JustJax staff member present, some of the interviews were conducting with two or three staff members present (a factor that was noted in the recording).
The secondary types of data were gathered from reports conducted by public sources such as city task forces, UF Health Jacksonville, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office data, regional and national crime data, and other sources. Many of the items we used are contained within the “Resources” section of this website. In addition, the JustJax team depended upon academic literature and research to provide context and support for our recommendations.