Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley tried to mend relations Saturday with members of the African-American Community Leaders Alliance of Okaloosa County ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.
FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley tried to mend relations Saturday with members of the African-American Community Leaders Alliance of Okaloosa County ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.
During a meeting at Striving for Perfection Ministries, Ashley defended comments he made recently about the Black Lives Matter movement being a “terrorist organization.” He stood by his claims that Black Lives Matter leaders call for the killing of police officers.
“Black Lives Matter is really a black liberation movement that wants to secede,” he told the room of about 30 people, including NAACP leaders, pastors, schoolteachers and other residents. “I can’t recant my statement on what they stand for.”
When pressed by the Rev. Cecil Williams on whether he believed black lives really matter, Ashley said he did.
“Yes, they matter,” he said. “I hope that’s never been a question.”
But several people questioned Ashley’s stance on race. They questioned him on racial profiling within the Sheriff’s Office, steps his agency has taken to address racial issues in the community and his overall stance on race and Black Lives Matter.
“I work hard to serve the entire community, black, white, Hispanic, Asian,” Ashley said. “If you don’t trust me to do that, there’s another option on August 30th.”
At one point Ashley said members of the black community don’t have to worry about racial profiling. Most people in the room laughed in disagreement.
“I would hope that if there was racial profiling going on, my deputies would tell me,” said Ashley, who added that only one instance of racial profiling has been reported to him in the past 10 years.
By the end of the forum, several leaders still disagreed with Ashley’s views on Black Lives Matter, but respected his willingness to answer their tough questions.
“I think we got a very good feeling of how the community felt about the statement he made,” said Raymond Nelson, president of the Okaloosa County chapter of the NAACP. “He may look at it as just words, but I think those words carried a lot of weight and had a negative impact on the community.”
Pastor Larry Boldin of Striving for Perfection Ministries was happy with Ashley’s explanation of his stance.
“It was a big point for him to say that black lives do matter,” he said. “He repaired some of that respect he lost, at least with this part of the African-American community.”