If you’ve crossed the Harts bridge since November then you probably have seen the spray painted figures on the huge silos. Many have driven past but don’t know that the faces belong to Connell Crooms and Sara Mahmoud (Palestinian Activist). Last week I had the distinct honor and pleasure of meeting with 26 year old Connell Crooms a local activist and member of the deaf community. I became familiar with his name in April when what started as a rally against American imperialism turned into officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office attacking peaceful protestors. According to Crooms there were agitators in attendance and the protestors had petitioned the police to separate them from the protest. In an effort to strike Connell one of the disturbers struck the officer. After this occurrence five police officers began to attack Connell and it was all caught on camera. He was punched, kicked, kneed in the face, tased and lost his hearing aid which was later found. He was then arrested and taken to the hospital after being knocked unconscious.
Once he was hospitalized there was no sign language interpreter on hand for hours. Even once transported to the jail there was no means of communication for deaf inmates. The only means of communication inside the Duval County Jail are TTY phones. Crooms states being born in 1990 that method is completely obsolete and no longer used. While in jail overnight he had to rely on the help of another inmate to contact his family. Speaking about this life changing ordeal brought on emotions for the both of us. On June 2nd the State Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against Connell which was a huge relief but he still doesn’t feel good about it. The officers in question were not reprimanded and as of now there is an internal investigation Connell can only think what if it would have been a gun instead of a taser? He has no expectation for police officers to ever be punished for police crime. Crooms states “It takes death to see justice. It takes a shooting as opposed to a beating”.
At age 5 Connell’s family learned that he was deaf. He graduated from The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in 2009 most notably known for Ray Charles attending. He is also one of the founders of Deafinitely Dope which bridges the gap between the deaf and speaking world through music. Connell signs the lyrics to hip hop music ideally making a music video in his hands. Recently his founding partner Matt Maxey has toured with Chance The Rapper as an interpreter. He is bringing awareness to the American Sign Language. There are not a lot of African American interpreters in Hip Hop music that understand the culture says Crooms.
In November 2016 an artist from Australia Guido Van Helsten saw both Crooms and Mahmoud speak at a Dump Trump rally and chose them as the subjects of his work. The artwork was completed in 4 days using a crane. The paintings were commissioned by Art Republic. When he was told he was being painted he thought it could be hung at home. He swerved off the road when he saw it in disbelief. The mural stands for solidarity “rather you are white, black, gay or trans if you are working class we all stand together.
Currently Crooms is working alongside others on a JPAC (Jacksonville Police Accountability Council). This is a non politically biased council democratically elected by the people to oversee the hiring, firing and investigations of the police. Connell believes this is our only choice unless we as blacks continue to beaten, shot and killed by the police. Police are historically rooted in slave patrols. He states “We can keep changing elected officials and Sheriffs but we need to have oversight over the police”.
Ultimately Connell wants from his activism programs for poor black communities and would love to bring the original Panther party model back. He wants to charge all young African Americans to stand up for what they believe in!
“If you are young and black read up on your history because that’s all we have! We are living in revolutionary times. BE THE CHANGE & FREE PALESTINE”. – Connell Crooms