JACKSONVILLE, FL -- About 200 rally outside Duval courthouse in support of protesters arrested Friday night. Chanting “Drop the Charges” and “Free the Hemming Park 5,” about 200 people demanded the immediate release Saturday of a Deaf man and elderly war veteran bloodied by Jacksonville police who arrested them along with three other demonstrators when violence erupted Friday night during a protest at Hemming Park.
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Family, friends and fellow activists from the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition were among the crowd gathered on the steps of the Duval County Courthouse to demonstrate, and to call for an independent and transparent investigation into whether Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office personnel used excessive force.
Tears streaming down her cheeks and as she gasped for breath from a portable oxygen tank, Feliciaia Crooms appeared near collapse as she said police severely beat her Deaf son, Connell Crooms, then wouldn’t allow her to see him either at the hospital or later at the Duval County jail after arresting him.
“He is not a troublemaker by any means,” Crooms said of her son, whom she and others described as a good person as well as a passionate but peaceful activist.
“The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office should not be allowed to get away with this type of behavior … I do not wish for any harm to come to my son at the hands of JSO. It’s not right,” she said.
She and the other demonstrators also called on the Sheriff’s Office to arrest a counter-protester, identified as Gary Snow, whom they accused of being a provocateur. They said he not only provoked Friday’s violence, but also has attempted to disrupt previous protests they’ve held against President Donald Trump.
Sheriff’s Office officials couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday about the accusation they used excessive force and ignored the counter-protesters.
Snow later told the Times-Union he merely was exercising his right to freedom of speech. He characterized the protesters’ allegations against him as lies, and denied inciting the violence. Although not at Saturday’s rally in person, Snow acknowledged that he’s attended past coalition demonstrations as a counter-protester and said he’ll will continue to do so because that is his right under the U.S. Constitution.
Arrested Friday night along with Connell Aubrey Crooms, 26, of Jacksonville; were protest organizer David Marlow Schneider, 27, also of Jacksonville; Christina Elizabeth Kittle, 27, of Middleburg; William “Willie” Thomas Wilder, 74, of Jacksonville; Thomas Craig Beckham, 26, of Hilliard; and Robert Gordon Sheffield Jr., 67, of Jacksonville... READ MORE - Times-Union.