BUNNELL – The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office has received $354,896 in grant money to combat hate crimes, the agency announced in a Tuesday press release. The money is from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and Bureau of Justice Assistance. It comes in the form of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Program Federal Grant.
Though Flagler County encounters lower concentrations of hate crimes than other counties in Florida and the South, the area has had its fair share of incidents in the last century-plus. Flagler County was the last in Florida to desegregate its schools, doing so only after being strong-armed by the United States Department of Justice. To this day, geographic racial division still exists informally on the same lines established by white supremacists decades ago.
According to figures from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, hate crimes do still occur, but more rarely now than before. Four hate crimes have been reported since sitting Sheriff Rick Staly took office in 2017, one in 2018 and three in 2022. Still, Black residents running for public office in Flagler County have spoken of racist opposition from residents even within that time frame.
“Today, there is no room for hate in our community,” said Sheriff Staly of the grant. “Our deputies are already on alert for any biased-based criminals and threats and our agency works hard to prevent targeted violence against anyone in our community and will not be tolerated. With this grant, we will be even more equipped to effectively monitor and prevent hate crimes to protect everyone in Flagler County. Since FY 2020-2021, FCSO has received over 3.7 million dollars in grants to enhance and improve services to our community and inmates in the jail.”
A federal hate crime is defined by the Hate Crimes Statistics Act as “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” Along with the rest of Florida, Flagler County has seen itself become the site of tense political strife where these issues are concerned, particularly the role of gender identity in public classrooms. In November 2021, students protesting the proposed removal of a library book by a queer, non-binary Black author which discussed these topics at length were intimidated by masked individuals. Several wore the insignias of extremist groups, such as The Three Percenters. The incident is not a reported hate crime, and thankfully no violence was recorded that night.