Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams said safely hosting the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville as planned is no longer an option, claiming Monday that his office was “past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security.”
Williams told reporters Monday that the hurried time table to ensure safety with “the bits and pieces I have in front of me today is not something I can support.”
The sheriff said his department will be responsible for what happens in the surrounding area of the convention, but given last minute changes and ongoing uncertainty, contracts had yet to be signed that would create the infrastructure necessary to provide security at such a large, high-profile event.
“Any plan requires finances and resources. I don’t have what I need to keep our community safe,” Williams said, adding that next steps remained unclear. “I just know what I have in front of me isn’t going to work.”
The remarks come after ongoing debates about how political conventions should be conducted this summer as some push for in-person conventions to be cancelled in favor of safer virtual ones amid a coronavirus pandemic that continues to ravage the country.
The pandemic has taken a particular toll in the state of Florida where the convention was moved after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) refused to promise a roaring convention if the same size and magnitude as previous years citing public health concerns and a need to follow CDC recommendations that would ensure social distancing and face covering guidelines could be enforced.
An RNC spokesperson released a statement in response to Williams concerns about the viability of the convention saying “Jacksonville has accommodated upwards of 70,000 people for football games and other events, and we are confident in state, local and federal officials to be able to ensure a safe event for our attendees.”
Republican National Convention was scheduled to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, but after the state’s Democratic governor imposed safety-minded restrictions on the mass gathering, the GOP decamped to Florida, moving many of the highest-profile, public-facing events to Jacksonville.
Democrats have drastically downsized their convention in Milwaukee, discouraging members of Congress from traveling to the event and allotting delegates up to two weeks ahead of the event for virtual voting. While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is still anticipated to deliver a speech in Milwaukee, much of the other programming including music, speeches and other appearances, are slated to take place remotely at various locations around the country.
The DNC swapped out a much larger venue for more humble one as part of an effort to dissuade in-person attendance.
While the RNC has made some concessions – including a cap on attendance that will make for a much more modest event – the committee is boasting indoor and outdoor events involving thousands of participants.
Attendance will be limited to the 2,500 regular RNC delegates for the first three days of the August convention, with total attendance at about 7,000 people, CNN reported.
The fresh wave of concerns further complicates President Donald Trump’s decision to hold an in-person convention in spite of safety issues amid the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal has already been undercut by high-profile Republicans reporting that they will not attend.
Correction: This post initially identified the governor of North Carolina as Ralph Northam. We regret the error.