VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – The Volusia County sheriff on Monday addressed recent acts of antisemitism in the county and in Central Florida at a news conference.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood was joined by faith and community leaders to condemn the “despicable, cowardly and reprehensible” attacks throughout the county, including a hate group using a portable projector to display antisemitic messages on the side of the Daytona International Speedway, what is believed to be the same group displaying antisemitic signs displayed on a pedestrian overpass, people handing out antisemitic propaganda in Ormond Beach and reports of hateful speech in the city of Port Orange.
“The reason behind this press conference today is when you’re trying to crush a radical group of cowardly scumbags, unity and sunshine destroy it,” Chitwood said. “The unity part is what you’re going to see in this room right now.”
He further said the people committing these hateful acts “are not part of our community.”
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“This is nothing but pure, pure, pure evil... And you came to the wrong county,” Chitwood said.
Various Volusia County-based community and faith leaders spoke out about these recent hate crimes as well, including District 7 State Attorney R.J. Larizza, Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington, the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties Rob Lennick, Volusia County Democratic Black Caucus President Rev. L. Ronald Durham and Rabbi Pinchas Ezagui of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Daytona, among others.
“In times like these, it is easy to feel disheartened, but I want to remind you that we have overcome adversity before and faced many storms together. Let us come together once again with love and compassion in our hearts, to stand against hate and to build a brighter future for all of us,” Partington said.
Representatives from different religions and clergies, including from the Sikh Foundation in Volusia County and Muslim Women’s Association of Daytona Beach, also spoke out.
“I’m just here to speak directly to every Jewish sister, mother, daughter, who feels scared. I feel the same way now. But I wanted to tell you we stand by you,” a representative from the Muslim Women’s Association of Daytona Beach said.
Almost all speakers touched on the importance of embracing diversity within the community and standing together to combat hate.
“This rash of antisemitism and hate is in no way a reflection of this community,” Lennick added. “Brought here by outsiders, it is an affront to our Jewish community and general community because let us go on record and acknowledge that our community is one built on love, respect, charity, and compassion... today we are gathered here in unity to resolve never to remain silent. Today we declare with one voice, there is no place for hate in our community.”
State Rep. Randy Fine echoed these sentiments, adding that the Florida Legislature hopes to move forward with House Bill 269, an anti-hate crime bill, at the upcoming session.
The proposed legislation would make it illegal to project hateful images on to a building without permission and outlaw the distribution of antisemitic flyers.
Fine said while acts like graffitiing a building, littering and putting up banners on the interstate are crimes now, the bill would enhance these penalties for hate crimes to felonies.
“If you do that and you have a hate crime, a hate motivation, it will be a third-degree felony. You will spend five years in jail,” Fine said. “I guarantee the bill will pass. And I never do that.”
Fine said that as it stands, if passed, the bill would go into effect on Oct. 1, but legislators are working to determine if the bill could go into effect as soon as the governor signs it into law.
Chitwood also said the sheriff’s office is working to track down the accused preparators behind the antisemitic displays.
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