Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis engaged in a heated argument Thursday with an audience member at a news conference who blamed him for the recent racist mass shooting that left three Black people dead in Jacksonville.
The news conference, which was in Jacksonville, was scheduled to highlight Florida’s protections against Covid-related mandates. But it took a pugilistic turn when DeSantis called on an attendee to ask a question.
Speaking calmly from the back of the room, the man told DeSantis that while he was appreciative of the governor’s military service as a veteran himself, he felt the governor’s policies allowed “immature people” to access weapons that ultimately “caused the deaths of the people who were murdered a couple weeks ago.”
DeSantis interrupted: “I’m not going to let you accuse me of committing criminal activity. I am not going to take that.”
“You have allowed people to hunt people like me,” the man, who is Black, continued after some cross-talk between the two.
“Oh, that is nonsense. That is such nonsense,” DeSantis replied over disapproving murmurs from the rest of the audience.
The man was escorted out of the room shortly afterward. DeSantis continued with his response as the man walked out of the event, telling the assembled crowd that Americans had flocked to Florida in part because of his administration’s commitment to public safety.
The ACLU of Florida echoed the man’s comments in a statement responding to a video of the encounter posted online.
“Gov. DeSantis’ policies have made Florida less safe for Black people in Florida,” the group posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
The Aug. 26 racist fatal shooting brought to light much of the discontent that many in Florida’s Black communities and beyond harbor for DeSantis administration policies, including wiping out diversity programs in schools and creating contentious standards around teaching race.
That anger showed as the governor was booed during remarks at a vigil for the shooting victims the day after the attack. The heckles were loud enough that a local leader had to interrupt DeSantis’ speech to settle the crowd.
As the Jacksonville news conference concluded, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo — a DeSantis appointee — who spoke earlier during the event about Covid vaccines and who is Black, addressed the crowd once more to come to DeSantis’ defense.
“It’s terrible that people take advantage of the fact that he’s a different color from the poor victims of that tragedy to try and tie him into something,” Ladapo said of DeSantis, calling the audience member “crazy” and “insane.”
DeSantis, who is a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, paused campaigning on Aug. 27 to travel back to Florida to manage the aftermath of the Jacksonville shooting and preparations for then-Tropical Storm Idalia. He is expected to resume his campaign schedule this weekend in Iowa, where he will take part in a bus tour with Never Back Down, the Super PAC supporting his bid.