Prayer vigils are typically solemn things about which people conduct themselves decently. But these are indecent times, so it was no surprise when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was met with jeers and boos at a vigil after a gunman killed three people in a Jacksonville Dollar General store.
The moment brought out the best in DeSantis and the worst in his critics, and not just those on the Left.
The shooter, a white male, carried writings addressed to his parents, the media, and law enforcement that indicated he targeted his victims because they were black. A shock to no one, he appears to have been mentally ill. In 2017, he was held for an involuntary, 72-hour psychiatric evaluation, Sheriff T.K. Waters of Jacksonville said. He was also involved in a domestic dispute call with his brother the prior year.
Tragedy is revealing. How people react to it says a lot. President Joe Biden doddered on vacation in Delaware as the death toll of the devastating Maui wildfires climbed. “No comment,” he told a reporter traveling with him about the blaze, sending the White House into damage control mode.
DeSantis, in contrast, swiftly hopped off the campaign trail and marched to Jacksonville, a Democrat-leaning city, knowing critics likely awaited and planned to use the tragedy as a pretext for taking political potshots. And when they did just that, Ju’Coby Pittman, a Democratic councilwoman, took his side because Pittman knows leadership when she sees it.
“Put parties aside,” she said. “A bullet don’t know a party.”
It was a powerful moment that gave DeSantis a chance to conclude his remarks. “We are going to stand up and we are going to do what we need to do to make sure that evil does not triumph in the state of Florida,” he said. “And that means we are going to work with Edward Waters so that they have whatever security they need.”
Before the incident, the shooter had briefly visited Edward Waters University, a historically black school. DeSantis’ office directed $1 million toward security at the university and $100,000 to support the families of the three victims.
By any reasonable standard, the governor handled the ordeal well, especially considering he was simultaneously preparing to deal with a hurricane. Nevertheless, he was subjected to a barrage of abuse and innuendo, with Leftists attempting to draw a link between the governor’s culture war policies and the shooter’s motive. NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement that DeSantis is “more concerned with appealing to an extremist minority than protecting American lives.” It’s untrue, and it’s a low blow, but it’s par for the course in partisan times.
Trump-aligned personalities and consultants also locked arms with the Left against the governor.
Failed GOP candidate Laura Loomer joined the hecklers on Twitter, as did Alex Bruesewitz, a consultant who has been paid by former President Donald Trump’s political action committee, Save America. “Even Florida is done with Rob [sic] DeSantis,” he wrote. The video Loomer and Bruesewitz shared of DeSantis being booed was posted by a far-Left anti-police activist who blamed him for the killings. She tweeted that he “inspires people in their early 20s to murder black people while they shop.”
It seemed strange. The extremes of the Left and Trump’s camp came together to attack the governor as he grappled with a grief-stricken community. But it’s not strange at all when you see that they’re just different sides of the same coin, trafficking in grievances and resentment rather than solutions. In times of crisis, whether mass shootings or tropical storms, they prefer to salt wounds. They root for death and disaster to befall the proverbial “man in the arena” and the community because it serves them.
After the Jacksonville vigil, unbothered by the hyenas, DeSantis swung his full attention to Hurricane Idalia as the state braces to confront the storm. “We’re locked in on this, we’re going to get this job done,” he said at a press conference on Sunday. Unfortunately for his critics, DeSantis seems to thrive in these moments, which are the markers of real leadership.