The Roman Empire kept its poor from rioting with chariot races, gladiators and circuses. The free entertainment and handouts of free bread kept the lower classes in line. In Pensacola, the rulers have galas, while the poor have prayer breakfasts and the hope of a few Mardi Gras beads being thrown to them.
On Friday, Jan. 18, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida held its “Corks and Canvases Gala.” The black-tie fundraiser celebrated the organization’s commitment to mentoring children, many of them African-American. The white politicians got to show their commitment to the less fortunate.
The next morning, the few officials that weren’t hung over from the previous night attended the MLK Commemorative Prayer Breakfast. They praised Dr. Martin Luther King, honored local black leaders and talked about improving the quality of life in the African-American neighborhoods.
On Monday, white politicians dressed up, some in Mardi Gras gear, and tossed beads at the MLK parade to a largely black crowd. Plenty of photos were taken to demonstrate how much these politicians care.
In between the prayer breakfast and parade, Ronkia Sconiers, 18, was brutally beaten in Morris Court by a pack of girls—minutes away from the breakfast site and the parade route. The teenage mother was later taken off life support.
The city council members—Mayor Hayward missed the parade—might not have been known about the assault when they tossed beads at the parade, but the local media were reporting the attack that night and the next morning.
The African-American officials reacted quickly. Commissioner Lumon May, who grew up in Morris Court, visited the neighborhood that night. Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn called for a town hall meeting in the housing project.
What about the white bead-tossers? Nothing.
Violence in Morris Court has become too common. On Dec. 24, Torrance Hackworth, 32, was kidnapped from a house in the project. He was beaten, bound, gagged and thrown in the trunk of his car by four or five armed men. Two days later, he was found dead.
On Christmas night, Barry Sullivan Jr., 18, was shot in the foot and hand during a home invasion four buildings down from where Hackworth was abducted.
Councilman Gerald Wingate, Cannada-Wynn and May responded. The others? Nothing.
No press announcements from Mayor Hayward, City Administrator Bill Reynolds or Public Information Officer Derek Cosson. No photos of the mayor walking the project reassuring the city residents. Nothing.
When the African-American community voted for Mayor Hayward, Councilman Brian Spencer and the two at-large councilmembers, Charles Bare and Megan Pratt, they expected more than beads.