Aug 28 (Reuters) – A campus police officer helped thwart a white gunman’s plan to “wreak murderous havoc” at Florida’s first historically Black university, the school’s president said on Monday, two days after the shooter killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville.
The shooter, 21-year-old Ryan Christopher Palmeter, had parked on campus and was donning gloves and a vest when students saw him and summoned the officer, Edward Waters University President A. Zachary Faison Jr. said at a press conference where he released new details about what had occurred at the school.
Palmeter then sped off campus, pursued by the officer and jumping a curb on the way, before heading to a nearby store to carry out what authorities have said was a shooting motivated by racial hatred.
Faison thanked the officer on Monday for stymieing “what we believe were the original aims of this white supremacist domestic terrorist.”
After the shooting, Palmeter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He left behind several manifestos for media, his parents and law enforcement detailing his hatred for Black people, according to authorities.
Federal and state officials condemned the shooting on Monday.
“We can’t let hate prevail. It’s on the rise,” President Joe Biden said in the White House before an assembly of civil rights leaders including the family of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., gathered for the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pledged $1 million to increase security at Edward Waters University and said an additional $100,000 would be donated to a charity supporting the families of the shooter’s victims.
“We are not going to allow our (historically Black colleges and universities) to be targeted by these people,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said the money for extra security would come from the Volunteer Florida Foundation, a non-profit organization that receives state and federal funding.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement personnel were at the university on Monday, evaluating security on campus and making recommendations for improvements to its safety infrastructure, according to DeSantis.
Some black leaders have denounced DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, for what they say is his government’s attack on Black history.
Florida in January banned an Advanced Placement course on African-American history for high school students. The state in July directed kindergarten through high school history teachers to include lessons on how enslaved Black people “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
The governor on Sunday was booed at a prayer vigil for the shooting victims, where he told the crowd the gunman was “a major-league scumbag.”
Jeffrey Rumlin, a pastor at the Dayspring Church in Jacksonville who spoke after DeSantis, disagreed. “At the end of the day, respectfully, governor, he was not a scumbag,” Rumlin said. “He was a racist.”
In an interview on Monday, Rumlin said prior statements by DeSantis and other government officials that “spew hate and divisiveness” had contributed to racist violence.
Rumlin said the swift law enforcement response to the shooter’s presence on campus showed that security at the university was not lacking.
“The solution is not increasing security,” he said. “The primary solution is to change our rhetoric.”
Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio
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