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Florida deputy's killing of Black airman renews debate on police killings and race

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Florida deputy's killing of Black airman renews debate on police killings and race


WASHINGTON (AP) — In 2020, the top enlisted leader of the Air Force went public with his fear of waking up to the news that a Black airman had been killed by a white police officer.

Then four years later, a Florida deputy shot and killed Senior Airman Roger Fortson in his apartment.

“I doubt if that police officer knew or cared that Roger was an airman. What he saw was a young, Black male,” retired Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth O. Wright said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

After George Floyd was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, Wright, who like Floyd is Black, felt compelled to speak publicly about the fears that he and his younger troops had. It didn’t seem to matter how hard he’d worked to serve his country. There were still police who would only see him as a threat.

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The national outcry surrounding Floyd’s death pushed Wright to lead some initiatives to better address racial issues within the Air Force. But by his own account, they didn’t go far enough. Fortson’s death has left him wondering if things will ever change.

“Right now, in the midst of what happened to Roger, it’s kind of a big deal. People are talking about it, the Air Force is dealing with it. But in a couple of weeks, it will go away, right?” Wright said.

The investigation into Fortson’s death is ongoing, and the sheriff’s office has not released the name or race of the officer involved.

On Wednesday, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden went to Hurlburt Field where Fortson served and met with Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, the head of Air Force Special Operations Command, to talk about the next steps.

Sabu Williams, president of the Okaloosa County NAACP branch, was there and said he did not leave with a sense that the sheriff’s office thought Fortson’s race was a factor in the shooting.

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But “bias certainly played a role in this thing,” Williams said. “From my perspective, we feel we don’t get the benefit of the doubt. It seems to be a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ kind of thing.”

In a statement posted to his Facebook page late Wednesday, Bauernfeind said the meeting with the sheriff’s office was productive and that the command would host a town hall in the coming days to talk further about the shooting and the way forward.

There is no government-managed national data collection system that tracks fatalities caused by law enforcement officers. The FBI has a database, but it’s voluntary, and less than two-thirds of local, state, tribal and federal agencies provided data for it last year. In any case, there is no breakdown by race.

Databases kept by private organizations, however, have found that fatal police encounters have risen each year since Floyd was killed and those killings are disproportionately of Black people.

Two databases, one by The Washington Post and another compiled by Campaign Zero, run by academics and activists advocating for police accountability, found that while more white people are killed in police encounters overall, Black people are disproportionately killed by police. Black people make up about 12% of the U.S. population but account for about a quarter of police killings in each of the databases.

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In the meeting at Hurlburt, Williams requested that the sheriff’s office pursue de-escalation training and unconscious bias training, which he said the sheriff supported.

The sheriff’s office said in a statement posted on Facebook that they have received the local NAACP’s “list of demands and understand their concerns.” In the meeting at the airfield, the sheriff “emphasized his commitment to do what is right,” it said.

Michael P. Heiskell, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the deputy’s race doesn’t matter when determining whether unconscious bias played a role.

“Whatever the race of this deputy, whether he’s Black, white, Hispanic, whatever — in this instance where this deputy saw a Black person with a weapon and immediately used deadly force, instead of calmly and reflectively assessing the situation, this is it.”

Williams’ NAACP chapter is drafting state legislation it wants to name after Fortson. The bill would require police to use de-escalating language before using force if they encounter someone with a gun who is not being held in a threatening position.

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Released police body camera footage shows Fortson had his gun in his hand when he opened his front door, but the barrel was pointed to the floor. Within seconds the deputy shot him, only afterward telling him to drop the weapon.

“A little bit of de-escalation or discussion” by the deputy could have given the airman the chance to put down the gun, Williams said. “He wasn’t given any time.”

MaCharie Dunbar, a board member of the Black Veterans Project, a national organization created to address racial inequality in the experiences of Black service members, said he wonders whether it would have made a difference if Fortson had been in uniform.

“One thing proven true time and again is that if you’re Black in America, it doesn’t matter what kind of job you have, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house you live in,” said Dunbar, who is retired from the Air Force and had been stationed at Hurlburt Field. “At the end of the day, you’re just Black. And there are some who hold on to this ideology that Black people are dangerous.”

Fortson’s shooting occurred against a wider backdrop of increased attention by the military to racial issues in its ranks. Over the past few years, internal reviews have found significant disparities in opportunities for promotion and uneven military punishments.

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But there has been significant pushback against those efforts, with far-right members of Congress criticizing them as being “woke.” Congress this year put caps on what the Pentagon can pay experts in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

Wright said that pushback has served to silence much discussion on the issue and, for now, the most helpful thing commanders can do is listen.

“If you’re a white male officer in the United States Air Force, you don’t wake up every day thinking about race,” Wright said. “We have Black airmen and officers that wake up every day and they go into rooms and they’re the only Black person.”

He said commanders need to understand the toll this takes.

“It comes with stress and anxiety. It comes with a feeling of not belonging. And, you know, most of us are taught to just assimilate, right? You know, don’t complain, don’t be the outcast. Don’t be the outsider because, you know, sometimes you get labeled as an angry Black man.”

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If airmen don’t feel like they’re supported in their own units, it’s unlikely they will trust opening up to commanders on an issue as big as Fortson’s shooting, he said.

Wright is now thinking about writing another column, and maybe getting involved on the issue again. But he’s not sure what needs to be done to prevent a future incident. Bringing the sheriff’s deputies on base to help them see Black airmen differently won’t fix the problem without a larger, societal change, he said. Asking commanders to have the equivalent of “the talk” with Black airmen that parents have with their Black children about encounters with the police isn’t a solution either.

“I don’t know that commanders could say anything to airmen that would necessarily be helpful about, ‘if the police knock on your door, do this, don’t do that,’ ” Wright said. “Young African American males, they know the drill, right? They already know the story. And, still, it’s not enough.”

Wright has two sons, ages 22 and 27. His heart has been breaking for Fortson’s mother, who buries her 23-year-old son on Friday.

“That could have easily been one of my sons,” Wright said.

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Lauer reported from Philadelphia. Aaron Morrison in New York City contributed to this report.





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FREE ADMISSION: State parks won’t cost Florida residents over holiday weekend

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FREE ADMISSION: State parks won’t cost Florida residents over holiday weekend


ORLANDO, Fla. – State parks will offer free entry this Memorial Day weekend to Florida residents.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the free admission last month while promoting summer activities in the state.

The free admission runs from Friday through Monday.

Florida has nearly 200 state parks and thousands of miles of trails. The parks range from historic parks like the Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park in Flagler Beach, Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, to natural springs like Silver Springs State Park in Marion County.

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If you’re planning to hit up Blue Springs, De Leon Springs or Wekiwa Springs, expect large crowds.

To find a state park near you, head to the Florida State Parks website.


You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below:

Copyright 2024 by WKMG ClickOrlando – All rights reserved.

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3-time defending champ Oklahoma beats Florida State 11-3 in super regional opener

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3-time defending champ Oklahoma beats Florida State 11-3 in super regional opener


NORMAN, Okla. — Three-time defending national champion Oklahoma is one win away from going back to the Women’s College World Series.

Alyssa Brito went 3 for 3 with two homers and the second-seeded Sooners beat No. 15 seed Florida State 11-3 in six innings in Game 1 of the best-of-three Norman Super Regional on Thursday night.

Kasidi Pickering had two hits for the Sooners (53-6), who got 11 hits from eight players.

Sooners coach Patty Gasso said this was the best she has seen her team hit this season.

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“Top to bottom, it’s hard to breathe when you’re facing these guys, when they’re really feeling it,” she said. “It’s probably the first time in a long while that I felt top to bottom, we were taking really great swings and now it looks really good.”

Oklahoma ace Kelli Maxwell (20-2) went the distance for the win. She gave up three runs on four hits in five innings. Gasso said she was glad to see Maxwell fight through some tough innings. Florida State left eight runners on.

“It’s a victory,” Gasso said. “Nobody knows probably what I’m talking about. But for Kelly to stay through that and fight through that and throw over 100 pitches — that’s a victory for her.”

Florida State loaded the bases in the first with two outs but did not score against Maxwell.

Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings hit a homer in the first, the 95th of her career. That tied her for second in school history with Lauren Chamberlain and moved her into a tie for third in Division I history.

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Oklahoma tacked on a run in the second, but Florida State’s Devyn Flaherty singled in the third to knock in two runs and tie the score.

Brito’s solo shot in the third highlighted a three-run inning that put the Sooners up 5-2.

Florida State got two on with no outs against Maxwell in the fourth and again failed to score.

Florida State starter Ashtyn Danley lasted just two innings after giving up five runs on six hits. Brito took new pitcher Emma Wilson out of the park in the fourth for a two-run blast that gave the Sooners a 7-2 edge. Kinzie Hansen followed with a two-run shot to make it 9-2.

The Seminoles won the national title in 2018 and lost to Oklahoma in the championship series in 2021 and 2023. That’s why Gasso expects Florida State to play better on Friday in Game 2.

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“I don’t expect that we’re going to have a game like we did today because they’re too competitive,” Gasso said, “They’re too well coached. They’ve been here before. They know what this feels like. They’re going to fight.”

In the Los Angeles Super Regional, Maya Brady hit two solo homers to help No. 6 UCLA beat No. 11 Georgia 8-0.

Brady went 3-for-4 and scored three runs and Jadelyn Allchin had three hits and scored twice for the Bruins

Kaitlyn Terry (21-1) threw a four-hitter. She struck out five and threw 93 pitches.



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South Florida home lists for $26M amid a flurry of big-dollar local sales

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South Florida home lists for $26M amid a flurry of big-dollar local sales


A new Venetian Islands, Florida property has hit the market for $26 million — and it’s not even a megamansion. The waterfront home, at 310 W. Dilido, is almost cozy at just 5,787 square feet.

“The Venetian Islands aren’t known for large homes, but this one has five bedrooms and an ideal layout,” said listing broker Dina Goldentayer of Douglas Elliman.

“It’s also on the Gold Coast, the Billionaires’ Row of the Venetian Islands,” Goldentayer added. “It has southern exposure with downtown [Miami] views. It’s the best of both worlds.”

The house comes with 60 feet on the water. Dina Goldentayer / Legendary Productions
There is plenty of room to entertain in this modern Venetian Islands home. Dina Goldentayer / Legendary Productions
A chic modern kitchen. Dina Goldentayer / Legendary Productions

Billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, owns in the islands, as does Justin Korsant, CEO of firm Long Light Capital. The Venetian Islands are a chain of manmade islands in Biscayne Bay between South Beach and downtown Miami. 

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The new construction waterfront home was completed this year.

Details include a chef’s kitchen, and a main bedroom suite with white oak floors, lots of storage, a spa-like bath and a terrace. There’s also an elevator and a roof area. 

The home’s dock awaits a new owner’s yacht. Dina Goldentayer / Legendary Productions
Spectacular sunsets from the bedroom terrace. Dina Goldentayer / Legendary Productions
The home comes with five bedrooms and a pool. Dina Goldentayer / Legendary Productions

Outside, there’s a pool, a covered lanai, a summer kitchen and a dock with 60 feet on the water. 

Four Venetian Islands properties have traded in the last 90 days for more than $20 million, including 416 W. San Marino Drive, which Korsant just bought for $23 million — even though it is still under construction, said Goldentayer, who also repped both sides of that deal. 

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