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Jax Fraternal Order of Police president threatens local teacher

By Robbey Hayes

Christina Kittle holding a 'Police Accountability Now' sign at the historic 3,50

Jacksonville, FL – Just hours after 3500 people rallied for police accountability in downtown Jacksonville on May 30, the president of the city’s police union took to Facebook and threatened a local teacher and community activist.

The target of these threats was Christina Kittle of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee (JCAC), who helped co-organize and lead the massive May 30 peaceful protest. Kittle also teaches middle school civics in Jacksonville, where she serves as her school’s union representative.

“This is Christina Kittle, one of the organizers of the so-called peaceful protest today in Jacksonville,” wrote Steve Zona, the president of Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 530, above a screenshot taken from Kittle’s profile.

“Christina is a teacher in Jacksonville,” he continued. “I want you [Zona’s Facebook followers] to share this post so Jacksonville can see that she never intended for the protest to be peaceful and she is helping to fundraise to bond out the criminals.”

Kittle had shared a link to a GoFundMe campaign raising bail money for people arrested after the protest. Shortly after most people, including Kittle, had left downtown, police clad in riot gear targeted and teargassed the hundred or so people who remained, including people walking back to their cars. Several protesters were beaten and arrested.

“Help bail out Jax fighters,” wrote Kittle. “JSO is a bunch of cowards. Don’t let them take more of our people.”

In a video made the day before the protest, Kittle explicitly called for a “peaceful protest” and made clear that they were assembling to stop violence.

As president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Zona represents the 1900 officers of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), along with corrections guards and some staff. His Facebook friends list includes hundreds of uniformed JSO officers and their spouses, many of whom shared his threat against Kittle and commented with additional threats of their own.

“It’s obvious what Zona was trying to say here,” said Joshua Parks of the JCAC. “He was calling for his followers in and around the JSO to put pressure on Christina’s school to get her fired. But he also wanted to paint Christina as ‘dangerous’ and ‘violent’ to his audience of armed JSO officers. Well we all know how police treat Black people, like George Floyd, that they see as ‘dangerous’. That’s why we’re protesting.”

Police union boss incited his followers into a frenzy against teacher

Zona’s followers got the message. Many of his friends made threats of their own against Kittle’s job and more.

Rick Reynolds, who works as a code compliance officer for the city of Jacksonville government, replied to Zona’s post about Kittle, saying, “JSO stay safe and use deadly force if your life is endangered. Load up those extra clips.”

Elizabeth Stevens Crance, from Las Vegas, Nevada, commented on Zona’s post, “Christina Kittle should be charged with DOMESTIC TERRORISM ! Wake up Duval County your Tax $$$$ are paying this terrorist to teach your kids.” She added later, “Maybe she should be charged with inciting all the violence!”

Gary Fiske, a retired cop from the Neptune Beach Police Department in Jacksonville, seemed convinced by Zona’s post that the FOP president would be taking action through the JSO to harm Kittle – something that might qualify as an abuse of power.

“I’m sure Steve will have that info Monday morning and will forward it to the proper personal [sic] about her comments about our police officers” he commented.

Daniel M. Jones, whose profile says he studied ‘Police Academy’ at FSCJ replied to Zona, “Thanks for calling her out…need to get warrants for these people and charge them with domestic terrorism.”

Zona’s post incited Dennis Morris of Jacksonville to openly call for JSO to take illegal action against Kittle. Morris wrote, “JSO step up and do something with her. Make an example out of her so others know what’s coming if they do the same. Enough of this is enough.”

Marcy Farmer Horvat, who disturbingly lists her own occupation on Facebook as “Caring for Elderly and Childcare at Home Healthcare,” took Zona’s post as a cue to call for police to shoot protesters. She wrote, “Police everywhere need to warn them with shots in the air to stop or start shooting them. Maybe this will Make them think twice of these kind of protests.”

CJ Foreman of Jacksonville, FL replied to Zona, saying Kittle “sounds like someone who needs to be fired and ran out of our town.”

Zona’s post so angered Dustin Carmichael of Jacksonville, FL that he wrote “Let them rot in jail!!! Fucking cowards!!!!” and “Fuck that dumb bitch. Hope she gets what she deserves. She don’t need to be teaching kids shit!!!”

As these unhinged and increasingly violent threats continued to appear from his supporters on the post, Zona simply doubled down. He continued accusing Kittle of “inciting violence against JSO officers.”

Over 50 supporters of Kittle commented and asked Zona, along with others, for evidence of Kittle encouraging violence. Zona ignored them and continued to make-believe. “If she was truly against the violence that was seen tonight,” he wrote in response, “she would not have shared that fund nor call the JSO cowards.”

Eventually, Zona’s post was overrun by people pointing out the absurdity of his threats and lack of evidence that Kittle called for any violence at all. Sometime on June 1, he deleted the post. By the end, Zona’s threats and the unhinged comments above had been shared by over 800 people.

“Make believe” Steve Zona’s obsessive history of harassing black women

This isn’t the first time Zona has zeroed in on community activists, union members, political opponents, or even Kittle.

“Zona has been a bully to organizers and others for years,” said Monique Sampson of the JCAC. “He always seems to use whatever power he has to intimidate women.”

In 2017, Kittle was one of five activists who were beaten and wrongfully arrested by the JSO during a protest against President Donald Trump’s April 6 airstrikes on Syria. Police turned the peaceful protest into a vicious display of violence as officers punched, tased and slammed four people, including Kittle, before throwing them in handcuffs. In total, five protesters were arrested and charged with felonies for ‘inciting a riot’. A massive community campaign supporting ‘The Jax 5’ successfully pressured State Attorney Melissa Nelson into dropping the bogus charges.

Zona weighed in publicly, taking the opportunity to attack Jacksonville attorney Leslie Jean-Bart, who is African American, for supporting the protesters’ right to free speech.

Much like in Kittle’s case, in which “Make Believe” Steve Zona falsely claimed she called for violence, the FOP president said of Jean-Bart, “My guess is you would support that [calling for ‘dead cops’] as free speech too and not see a reason to condemn.”

Jean-Bart’s actual comment defending the protesters’ freedom of speech explicitly said she did not see anyone calling for “dead cops” or similar violent threats.

Three weeks later, the Jacksonville city council rules committee yanked Jean-Bart’s nomination to the city’s ethics committee on a 6-0 vote. The sponsor of Jean-Bart, public defender Charlie Cofer, who was endorsed by both the FOP and Jacksonville sheriff Mike Williams, withdrew her nomination.

Reporters like A.G. Gancarski of FloridaPolitics noted Zona’s outspoken disapproval of Jean-Bart’s nomination at the time. Referring to Jean-Bart’s defense of the protesters’ right to free speech, including the phrase “Fuck the police,” he wrote, “If protesters had quoted almost any other late-1980s hip hop song, Jean-Bart likely would be on Ethics as of Tuesday evening.” In other words, Zona using the weight of the FOP and JSO had sunk Jean-Bart’s nomination.

In 2017, JSO officers stopped African American City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, allegedly on suspicions of having a stolen license plate. Gaffney’s fellow city council member, Katrina Brown, also Black, stopped to observe the incident and see if Gaffney was safe. Both council members alleged racial profiling in the traffic stop, which came just a day after both had made critical comments of the massive police budget increase requested by the JSO.

The following day, Zona blasted both Gaffney and Brown on Facebook, saying their actions were “clearly beneath the office of a council member here in Jacksonville. They owe the men and women here in Jacksonville. If they can't muster that up, they're not fit to serve, and they need to resign.”

Zona’s threats scared Gaffney enough into apologizing. Brown did not and refused to vote in favor of the massive police budget hike. Shortly thereafter, Brown and another Black city councilman were arrested on corruption charges. Some activists believe their indictments were politically motivated.

As recently as June 2019, Zona had zeroed in on a rally organized by Kittle against FOP-endorsed state representative Kim Daniels. The rally had nothing to do with police, focusing instead on Daniels’ support for barbaric restrictions on women’s access to reproductive health care.

“If Kittle opposes you,” wrote Zona, “that’s the best endorsement you could ask for.”

More organized crime than organized labor

Zona worked for JSO for 25 years before becoming a Fraternal Order of Police official. In 2013, he was elected to the group’s executive board after disgraced former FOP 530 president, Nelson Cuba, pled guilty to his role in an illegal $300 million gambling racket.

Cuba was one of 57 public officials, business owners and attorneys arrested in March 2013 for operating an illegal network of storefront casinos and internet cafes used exclusively for gambling. Their stated purpose was to generate funds for a Florida-based charity called Allied Veterans of the World. But federal investigators found that of the $300 million raised by the casinos, only $6 million – about 2% – went to the actual charity.

Cuba, along with FOP 530 First Vice President Robbie Freitas, used FOP 530 bank accounts at BBVA Compass and Bank of America to launder $420,000 in revenue from the internet cafes that they owned and operated. While Cuba originally faced additional racketeering and money laundering charges, prosecutors dropped most of his charges before striking a plea bargain that included no jail or prison time.

Zona became president of FOP 530 in 2015. Since that time, he has used the post in much the same way his bombastic grifting predecessor, Cuba, did: as an extralegal bully pulpit to attack anyone calling for police accountability.

Why the FOP never stands with the working class

Although the FOP is legally recognized as a collective bargaining agent, they have very little in common with the rest of organized labor. Most unions do not regularly defend members who have killed or seriously hurt someone. When they do, it’s usually the result of a workplace accident. If a union worker commits a serious crime against people, in most cases their union cannot help them.

The FOP is a different story. Legislation like the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) already gives police an extra layer of due process protection that regular citizens do not enjoy. But cop unions like the FOP add even greater protection for officers who break the law or commit crimes. Because of their unique status as enforcers of the state and its laws, police can operate outside and above the law. Groups like the FOP make this possible, and use every means available, including threats and intimidation, to keep it that way.

Throughout the history of the labor movement in the U.S., police have exercised their role as defenders of private property for the rich. In times of greater labor activity, unions battled police on picket lines when employers called them in to break strikes. Even when the government shut down at the start of 2019, federal law enforcement like Immigration and Customs Enforcement broke with other federal unions and backed Trump extended the shutdown.

At every turn, groups like the FOP prove they have more in common with employers and billionaires than they do with workers. It’s no wonder that officials like Zona feel no solidarity with a public-school teacher and union representative like Kittle. They’re not part of the same class.

FOP 530: Solidarity never!

In Jacksonville, Zona’s FOP has a notoriously transactional relationship with the North Florida Central Labor Council (CLC). While most unions in Duval County belong to the CLC as members and regularly send elected delegates to participate, the FOP makes only the occasional appearance to shake down the organization for money and certain endorsements.

One of the most egregious examples came in 2016, when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry proposed extending a sales tax to bail out the city's troubled Police and Fire Pension Fund. Jacksonville's PFPF accounts for roughly 20% of the city's annual budget, and the JSO as a whole already accounts for over 36% of every city dollar spent.

“I remember it like yesterday,” said Fernando Figueroa, a Teamster in Jacksonville who attended the Central Labor Council for many years. “FOP officials showed up at the monthly Labor Council meeting to demand their endorsement of the sales tax referendum. There was plenty of debate, and eventually the CLC endorsed the referendum. But after getting what they came for, the FOP left the meeting in-progress. I haven’t seen them since.”

Though Jacksonville hasn’t seen many strikes in recent years, the FOP has done nothing to support labor actions by other unions. They haven’t showed up to support the dozen labor rallies called by the CLC in the last decade. They don’t walk picket lines with workers. At any of these events, the only FOP presence consists of the JSO officers patrolling and surveilling the event.

Police accountability – not threats & brutality

Zona felt enough pressure to take down his threats against Kittle. But after working his followers up into a frenzy against a schoolteacher, the damage may be done.

The FOP president has a pattern of lashing out like this whenever the movement for police accountability is on the rise. The historic 3500-person protest on May 30 that Kittle helped organized through the Jacksonville Community Action Committee sent a sign to Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and every JSO officer who stormed onto the streets in riot gear later that day.

The crowd demanding police accountability outnumbered every sworn officer on the JSO police force nearly 2 to 1. It was the biggest rally in Jacksonville’s history in at least 50 years. Since it was peaceful, Zona had to find another way to attack the event, and as usual, he fell back on demonizing a Black teacher.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson, who is up for re-election this year, is under pressure to release video and body camera footage from the six JSO shootings this year. Zona knows that if community control of the police becomes a reality in Jacksonville, their days of living above the law are over. If the movement happening across the country is any indication, that day may be coming sooner than he thinks.

Steve Zona's post threatening public school teacher and community activist Chris

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