On August 26, Ryan Palmeter, a white man, attempted to enter Edward Waters University while wielding a gun. The school — a historically Black university (HBCU) — was placed on lockdown and so, unable to enter campus, Palmeter instead went to a nearby Dollar General store where he shot and killed Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Anolt Joseph “A.J.” Laguerre, Jr., 29, who worked at the store; and Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, 19.
Palmeter was specifically targeting Black shoppers before he turned the gun on himself, ending his life. Prior to his rampage, Palmeter wrote a manifesto describing his hatred and desire for violence against Black people. He had swastikas carved into his gun. He wore a Rhodesian patch, the international symbol of violent white supremacy, a beachhead on the African continent. In short, another far-right, anti-Black reactionary took up arms against the Black community and murdered three people while they were shopping. This is reminiscent of the Buffalo shooting, where a white supremacist specifically targeted Black people in a shooting at a grocery store.
The Jacksonville mass shooting is an expression of Florida’s right-wing policies, as well as an expression of the decay of the U.S. capitalist system.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been attacking Black history in schools by either banning the subject or attempting to revise it to paint white supremacy in a more favorable light and justify numerous crimes against the Black community — including acts of white supremacist terrorism like the Tulsa Massacre. DeSantis has stopped AP Black History from being taught at high schools and wants the new curriculum to state that slavery could benefit enslaved people.
Attacks on Black people, trans people, and unions — especially the teachers and University unions — create an atmosphere of hate pushed by the Republican Party. The so-called “ War on Wokeness” is a thinly disguised war against Black people, immigrants, the trans and queer community, and the working class’s ability to organize and unionize. Even the word “wokeness” carries a racialized connotation as it was developed within Black communities and popularized through the Black Lives Matter movement.
We should be clear: The blood of these murderers is on DeSantis’ hands. And activists in Florida know it. DeSantis was booed and shouted down at a Jacksonville vigil to remember the victims of this hateful shooting.
It’s Not Just Florida
Black people are the primary targets of hate crimes around the country, representing more than one-fifth of all hate crimes reported in major U.S. cities last year, the highest share of any group. As Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism explained:
We expect this killing cycle to continue, especially as we enter a volatile election season. These atrocities are often carried out by angry young adult males who made recent weapon acquisitions, act within their home state, and who reference the ‘replacement’ doctrine statements of previous killers.
Replacement theory asserts that non-white immigrants are being brought into the U.S. to “replace” white people — inspiring hateful violence against Black people, as well as against immigrants. It’s the same violent ideology that inspired the Buffalo shooting.
We are also witnessing violence against other communities. In Arrowhead, California Laura Ann Carlson was murdered for posting a pride flag at her storefront. That same weekend, there was a shooting at a queer and trans friendly punk club in Minneapolis. There have been over 350 incidents of anti-LGBT hate from April of 2022 to June of 2023.
The escalation of attacks on people of color and queer people in the streets is a direct consequence of increasing anti-Black, anti-immigrant and anti-trans politics and rhetoric being advanced by the political parties and institutions of the state — and it’s not just the Republican party perpetrating this hate.
The Supreme Court ruled against Affirmative Action, Roe v. Wade and LGBTQ legal protections. Both the Republicans and the Democrats complain about “wokeness” and Republicans have made stripping rights away from the specially oppressed the heart of their political profiles. The Democrats have increased police budgets all over the country based on false claims of an uncontrollable crime wave. This has created a climate that is escalating right-wing attacks.
Further, this shooting comes when mass shootings are at an all time high. There have been 400 mass shootings so far this year, a record-breaking number. These shootings are the result of the right-wing backlash against Black Lives Matter and against queer people. But they are also a product of a capitalist system in crisis, in which work is increasingly low paid and precarious, and the ability to own a home and have a dignified life and wage are being eroded. While the Democrats deceptively claim the economy is doing well, the Republicans blame Black, Brown, and queer people, sowing the seeds for the kind of racist, violent, and hateful act that we saw in Jacksonville. Further, as social services are cut and as the pandemic takes a toll on the mental health of the whole country, these violent acts are likely to be more common as they are at the intersection of a racism, patriarchy, a capitalist system in decline, and a totally unaddressed mental health epidemic.
An Independent Fight Against the Right
Ron DeSantis has blood on his hands, and the kind of curriculum that he wants Florida schools to teach gives students no historical context to understand the anti-Black violence enacted at the Dollar Store. There can be no doubt that the far right in politics, from Ron to Donald Trump, are emboldening a sector of the Right who will continue to take these figures’ hateful rhetoric and laws into their own hands and commit acts of violence against Black people. As we head into the 2024 election cycle, we can only expect both the hateful rhetoric and right-wing polarization to continue, and more people like Ryan Palmeter to emboldened.
And as the last two years have made clear, voting Democrat does not get rid of the far right. With Joe Biden in the presidency, we have seen the rise of DeSantis, the emergence of Vivek Ramaswamy, the re-emergence of Donald Trump. Further, we’ve also seen the erosion of basic rights by the Supreme Court and by the Biden administration itself. For all their tears, the Democrats refuse to codify Roe v. Wade, they call for more money for police — many of whom are literally members of white supremacist organizations — and they, too, limit trans rights in schools.
Voting Democrat will not stop the Far Right. We must take the fight to the streets and to our workplaces, and organize a political force against the Right.
Take the Streets, Organize Your Workplace
The Jacksonville shooting marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. On that day, unions, civil rights groups, students, and activists came together against racism and for civil rights for Black people.
To mobilize against the right-wing attacks, the Left will need to organize along these lines.
We must take the streets to highlight that we stand against racist violence and to say that the DeSantis’s policies and rhetoric are responsible. We must organize against the “anti-woke” and “anti-trans” legislation that sows the seeds of this violence, and demand that schools teach history — real history — to students. We must demand more counselors and mental health professionals and also demand that they be trained in anti-racist practices so that they can help identify and address the white-supremacist and patriarchal perspectives that lead to these mass shootings.
We must also organize in our unions with this perspective, including strikes and walkouts, following the example of Starbucks workers who went on strike during Pride month and the solidarity strike by Los Angeles teachers. The Los Angeles Teachers union (UTLA) organizes in support of trans kids as right wing anti trans bigots have stormed school board meetings to attack trans youth.
But it’s not enough to fight in the streets. An organization, a party of our own without the capitalists, a party based on workers’ struggle, community and left organizations with a socialist program is essential to fight the Right. Capitalism itself fosters exploitation, bigotry, and violence and therefore we must fight not just the far right, but the entire capitalist system and the parties that represent it and open the door to the Far Right. We need a party to organize against capitalism, imperialism, and its attack dogs like the police and murderous bigots who are committing mass shootings around the country.
The victims of Jacksonville were murdered simply for existing while Black. While these murderous bigots continue to target oppressed people, we have the power to shut down the capitalist system through strikes as well political organization outside of the capitalist parties, for a class-independent strategy which can take on these right-wing attacks.