Black pastors decry Jacksonville's hosting of RNC convention amid COVID-19

Balloons and confetti descend after the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016.
Balloons and confetti descend after the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016. | (Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

More than 70 black pastors have signed a letter urging Jacksonville, Florida, city officials to reconsider hosting parts of the Republican National Convention in late August amid rising cases of coronavirus and fears of “ethnic tensions.” 

“As clergy and community leaders, we urge our city officials to reconsider hosting the Republican National Convention,” the letter made public on Monday reads. 

“Recent times have found municipalities across our country wrangling with life’s most unimaginable phobias. Fears such as ethnic tension, economic uncertainty coupled with the first pandemic in a century have exponentially amplified the level of anxiety in our society. These occurrences affect Jacksonville.”

Titled “For the Safety of Our Community,” the pastors' correspondence was sent to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office and expressed “grave concern” that the city’s agreement to host the convention “signifies that our city is placing profits over people.”

The 2020 Republican National Convention will be hosted in Jacksonville as well as Charlotte, North Carolina. The events in Jacksonville will take place on Aug. 25-27 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

Curry had touted the estimated $100 million in economic impact the convention could have on the city. But the letter, led by Pastor Arthur Jones Sr. and Ardel Jones of All People International Church, argues that it is “disingenuous to estimate that any convention would bring $100 million to Jacksonville when the city is burgeoning more diseased each day.”

“Over a month ago, Governor Ron DeSantis ordered quarantines for the residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut upon entering Florida,” the letter reads. “ New York and the surrounding states represented the epicenter of the Coronavirus two months ago. Six weeks later, these tri-states have returned the favor. Upon entering their states, Floridians must be quarantined upon entry due to our ascending numbers of those testing positive for COVID-19.”

The pastors argue that their concern is “not hyperbole or embellishment.” They cite a letter recently sent to Curry’s office by hundreds of doctors calling the decision to host parts of the convention “medically disrespectful to the citizens of this city.” 

Florida has become one of the hotspots for the coronavirus in recent weeks as it recorded another 7,300-plus coronavirus cases on Tuesday, days after setting single-day highs in confirmed cases over the weekend. 

“With the alarming, escalating numbers of COVID cases, more businesses are sure to close, be it temporarily or permanently,” the pastors’ letter reads. “At this critical juncture of where we are as a city and a nation, dialogue, healing, and decency are essential to reconciliation. Incendiary rhetoric and bellicose speech are toxins that continue to rip away at the fabric of our democracy.”

In a statement provided to The Christian Post, RNC spokesperson Mike Reed said that the RNC is “committed to holding a safe convention that fully complies with local health regulations in place at the time.”

“The event is still almost two months away, and we are planning to offer health precautions including but not limited to temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols, and available COVID-19 testing,” Reed explained. “We have a great working relationship with local leadership in Jacksonville and the state of Florida, and we will continue to coordinate with them in the months ahead.” 

The pastors also voiced concern with the fact that President Donald Trump is slated to accept the Republican Party’s 2020 presidential nomination in Jacksonville on Aug. 27, the anniversary of what is known as “Ax Handle Saturday.”

Ax Handle Saturday was a racially motivated attack in Jacksonville in 1960. The pastors say Ax Handle Saturday was “one of the bloodiest days in our city’s history.” The pastors feel that having the president accept the Republican nomination on the anniversary of the tragic day is “unthinkable!” 

“This will set our city back decades,” the pastors argued. “As leaders of African American congregations along with the entire African American community, we urge our city officials to reconsider our city as the host city of the RNC for the safety of our city.”

Critics have accused Trump of stoking racial division. Most recently, Trump seemed to have criticized NASCAR’s decision to ban the confederate flag. Although he has been accused by some of appealing to a white nationalist base, Trump has in the past condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

RNC Senior Communications Advisor for Black Media Affairs Paris Dennard told CP in a statement that Trump “has been a champion for the Black community.”

“[W]e applaud the achievements his administration has made in the areas of economic development, education, and criminal justice reform,” Dennard said. “While we cannot erase some of the darkest moments of our nation’s past, we can denounce them, learn from them, fight for justice and a more perfect union for every American. That is exactly what President Trump has done.”

Dennard added that the RNC is “excited to showcase the best of Jacksonville and provide a multi-million-dollar boost to their local diverse economy as we nominate Donald J. Trump for the next four years.”

Curry’s office has vowed to respond to the pastors’ letter similarly to how the office treats others who contact his administration. In a statement to local news outlet WJXT, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said that the office could not offer any further comment. 

In a memo Monday night, a spokesperson for the Jacksonville host committee, Erin Isaac, explained that “everyone attending the convention within the perimeter will be tested and temperature checked each day.”

Isaac clarified to CNN that attendees of the convention will be tested for COVID-19. More information about testing and other health measures will be made available closer to the convention, according to a party official.  

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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