Pride Center of North Central Florida board members arrived Saturday morning to find their building’s front door and window shattered. Among the rubble, rocks and a hateful note were found.
At around 4 p.m. on Friday, the owner of the Center’s Plaza noticed no damage to the building. When the owner came back early in the morning on Saturday, the Pride Center’s front door and window glass lay shattered on the ground. Nothing was stolen, according to the Center’s Vice President James Brown, and no other businesses in the Plaza were damaged.
“My guess is that they (the vandals) wanted to flex that they could intimidate the Pride Center,” Brown said. “And intimidate the community that we serve.”
Shortly after he arrived at the Center at 9 a.m., Brown and other Board members alerted the Gainesville Police Department to the situation. Brown said he believes police will look into the incident as a possible hate crime.
A Gainesville police spokesperson confirmed that they are currently investigating the issue, but declined to say whether it is being looked at as a hate crime.
It is “business as usual” for the Pride Center despite the damages they’ve incurred, according to Brown. He said that the center’s first priority is making sure people know that their programming is still available to them. He also stressed that Center officials are committed to ensuring people’s safety.
After word began spreading of the vandalization, community members began to reach out for ways to support the Center. Most of the fallen glass was brushed away and the hollowed-out door frame was secured with plywood by about 1 p.m. Over the course of the day, about 30 people were in and out of the center to help clean and show their support for the Center.
I’m here at the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida. A building manager found the center’s front door and window shattered this morning and community members are rallying to board up the damage. @WUFTNews pic.twitter.com/lOLjw9qh62
— Julia Cooper (@JuliaArinCooper) September 24, 2022
Among them was City Commissioner Harvey Ward who called the incident “shocking but less surprising” given the recent rise in intimidation efforts around town. He pointed specifically to an incident a few weeks ago where the Democratic Party local headquarters was vandalized and also instances of anti-Semitic messages being spread across Gainesville neighborhoods.
Ward said that these incidents may be traced back to the increased use of violent rhetoric among political leaders.
“There’s a longer trail there,” he said. “There’s a pattern of behavior of hateful messages that we shouldn’t be surprised when that kind of rhetoric ends in things like this.”
Ward said that he and other local leaders are committed to condemning hate and ensuring that Gainesville remains a welcoming community.
“No matter who you are, or where you’re from or who you love, I’m glad you’re in Gainesville,” he said.
Even those not present at the Center reached out to support recovery efforts. Gainesville artist Kentucky Costellow announced via social media that she will be locally printing two different designs on black t-shirts. A third of proceeds on each sale will be donated to the Pride Center to help them with funding repairs. Costellow said the shirts will be available for pickup before or during Gainesville Pride on October 22. Costellow can be reached at email@example.com.
Brown said although staff and community members are upset over the vandalism, an incident like this gives them more resolve to keep serving the community.
“The center that we work at, the community that we serve, we all just love and care for each other,” he said. “When somebody tries to intimidate that, or stop us, our response is not to shrink, it is to show up and be present and help out.”