Law-and-order candidate Donald Trump seems determined to be the law-and-order president, posting a pledge on behalf of law enforcement hours after taking office.
“The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong,” it reads. “The Trump Administration will end it.”
In his first 100 days in office, Trump is promising to back that pledge with money, increasing funding to local police.
These actions follow years of tension between communities and police, exacerbated by incidents of officers shooting unarmed black Americans and avoiding prosecution.
The neighborhood of Springfield in Jacksonville, Florida, knows those tensions well. On May 22, in broad daylight, a white officer, Tyler Landreville, shot and killed an unarmed black man, Vernell Bing Jr.
Jacksonville is a politically divided city in northeast Florida: Republican Trump won the election here by a margin of less than 2 points. His vocal support for local police also receives a divided reaction.
Michelle Tappouni is encouraged by it. She’s a Republican who says she couldn’t bring herself to vote for Trump. (She reluctantly voted for Hillary Clinton.) Now that he’s in office, she wants him to listen to local police and help them keep her safe.
“I would hope that funding will be available for these officers to have what they need to be safe and to do their jobs,” she said.
Tappouni’s century-old home evolved along with the neighborhood. When it was built, Springfield was the place to be, filled with grand homes two and three stories high, with big front porches, close to downtown. The 1960s brought white flight, and, as in a lot of urban areas, the ’80s brought crime and crack cocaine.
Now, Springfield again is a neighborhood in transition. Tappouni, who moved there just over a decade ago and became one of the newer white residents, would say it’s improving. Violent crime declined slightly in the last year.
A few years ago, though, she was caught off guard. “I wasn’t paying attention,” Tappouni said, “and someone took advantage of that, and I was mugged in my front yard.”
After that, she took it upon herself to make Springfield safer. She is the president of the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council and cultivates a close relationship with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Biko Misobiko was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but grew up in Springfield. Now 25, he’s a rising activist.
Springfield’s rents rose with the changes in the neighborhood, and in 2012, the cost of living forced Misobiko out of the area. He still works odd jobs in Springfield, and his friends are here – it’s where his heart is. He knows it is as a tough neighborhood, too: Misobiko’s been shot twice, once in 2007 and again in 2008.
He’s interested in changing the community, too, but he doesn’t necessarily see law enforcement as the answer.
“We don’t trust the police around here,” he said.
Police shootings added to the tension. Nobody knew just how many there were in Jacksonville until a local investigative reporter started tallying them.
Ben Conarck of The Florida Times-Union found that in the last 10 years, 124 people had been shot by Jacksonville sheriff’s deputies. The number comes from months of research his team did with little cooperation from the Sheriff’s Office.
In all, 96 of those shootings were of black residents – 77 percent – even though only 30 percent of Jacksonville residents are black.
Conarck also found that in those shooting cases, only two officers have been fired. Two others resigned, and no officer had been convicted of a crime or prosecuted. (That changed recently, when three Jacksonville detectives were the first arrested in an officer-involved shooting since Conarck’s reporting began. However, they were charged for evidence tampering.)
Nine months after Bing, 22, was killed, the officer who shot him, Landreville, remains under investigation.
Misobiko says he hung out with Bing a lot: “You know, me and Bing, we’re close.” When Bing was killed, he said it shook him up.
Revisiting the intersection where Bing was shot, Misobiko pointed to the lawn signs. “Stop Killing Black Children,” they read.
As Misobiko talked, children headed to and from the park nearby. Lee Davis, 12, stopped to talk. He was playing in the park and watching his little sister when the shooting happened, he said. His account differs from the official one; he says law enforcement officials never asked him what he saw that day.
First, Lee said, he heard sirens and ran to find out what was wrong. He saw a red Chevrolet Camaro speeding up to the intersection. “And as the car was coming down, the police came round the corner and hit the car,” he said.
Then, according to Lee, the officer got out of his car, unholstered his gun and pointed it at the driver. “And started shooting at him,” he said. “Then Vernell got out the car and started walking, and that’s when the officer shot five more times.”
Bing hit the ground, and Lee took off. “My mother always told us if you hear a gunshot, run,” he said.
Bing died in the hospital the next day.
Later that night at a press conference, sheriff’s officials said Bing struck Landreville’s cruiser after leading officers on a high-speed chase, and there were five shots fired. The Sheriff’s Office opened an administrative investigation to decide whether Landreville was justified in firing his gun. That press conference was the last public statement the Sheriff’s Office has made about what happened that day.
The state attorney also has opened a criminal investigation to determine whether Landreville’s actions constituted a crime.
Neither investigation has been resolved, drawing community criticism about lack of transparency and conflicts of interest. That’s in part because the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office investigates its own officers behind closed doors instead of outsourcing the inquiry as some other cities do.
A federal civil rights review of the Bing shooting also began during the Obama administration. Its fate remains uncertain today. Trump’s new U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions, expressed skepticism during his confirmation hearings about federal intervention in local cases.
“I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice,” he said.
Misobiko still wants to see a prosecution happen in the shooting death of his friend. But he believes the odds are against it, recounting the story of another officer who shot three people, killing two of them, and now is back on patrol.
“I mean, you see these officers keep repeating the same crime and placed back in the same area,” he said. “You know, we feel hopeless.”
This story was edited by Julia B. Chan, Laura Starecheski and Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick.