By Greg Jackson, Esq.
This past week, I was interviewed by a WFTV Channel 9 News reporter, Mike Manzoni. The topic was the findings of the Apopka Task Force in identifying alternative approaches to address violence in the South Apopka community. In addition to lack of economic opportunity and poverty as causes to violence, the Task Force also identified "Urban PTSD" as an unknown condition and potential link to the perpetuation of violence.
Yes, you read correctly; after hearing from South Apopka residents, who reported stress, anxiety, and anger related to frequent gunshots, acts of violence, depressed economic conditions and deteriorating living accommodations, the Task Force had the courage to surmise that these were akin to symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reported by individuals who have been in "war zones." While “Urban PTSD” sounded implausible and was set up by WFTV to be ridiculed, the ridiculous became real when Candice Conroy, the PTSD expert selected by WFTV to refute the claims of the Task Force, admitted that in her opinion residents of South Apopka do in fact have symptoms of PTSD.
BOOM!!! Just like that the Task Force’s suggestion of “Urban PTSD” – a new finding that some were seeking to discredit – was actually validated by an expert according to WFTV. The one questionable opinion by the PTSD expert, however, was that PTSD does not lead to violence or aggressive behavior. Recognizing this flaw, I reached out to the WFTV reporter and provided information from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), which identifies “irritable or aggressive behavior” and “reckless or destructive behavior” as diagnosis criteria for PTSD. I also provided the WFTV reporter with information from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which found that "anger can create major problems in the personal lives of those who . . . suffer from PTSD." I felt it was important that WFTV update the story to show that the PTSD expert it selected was not completely accurate. However, for some reason WFTV refused to update the story, making this Task Force finding of “Urban PTSD,” a new condition within underserved communities with a potential link to increased violence, the “breaking news” story you never heard.
Advocating for change is difficult enough with detractors ignoring or discounting the issues within and needs of underserved communities; particularly as it relates to the use of community redevelopment agency (CRA) funds. That difficulty is compounded when you have a news agency (i.e., WFTV) that opens the door to reveal a potential “epidemic” within underserved communities that has never been addressed, has the opportunity to educate the public, but refuses to do so. Because many elected officials and the public have been led to believe that CRA funds are just for business development purposes, you too may ask how CRA dollars may help in this regard. In response, I implore you to read sections 163.335 and 163.350, Florida Statutes to gain a full understanding of why CRAs were established. Undeniably, the Florida Legislature recognized a need to establish CRAs to address "slum" and "blighted" conditions since such areas pose a serious and growing problem that affects public health, safety, morals, and welfare of residents of our state. To achieve this aim "workable programs" were outlined to support the rehabilitation of deteriorated or deteriorating structures, the development of affordable housing, the implementation of community policing innovations, and the redevelopment of slum and blighted areas. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to speak with folks who are purportedly well-versed in CRAs, yet I have to educate them on the full and true intent of Chapter 163, Part III, because they have a single focus on how to use CRA funds. Many seek to use CRA funds for business purposes (i.e., improve streetscape, building facades, etc.), while ignoring the deteriorating living conditions of human beings.
I was always taught that those who know better, do better. However, it appears that those who wish to use CRA funds for business development, thinking such development will trickle down into the community, know better but choose to ignore the true needs of those living in poor conditions. There is a reason why CRA spending has come under scrutiny by: a grand jury, inspector general, Florida Auditor General, watchdog groups, citizens, legislature, etc. Plain and simple, some truly community-minded folks have looked at Chapter 163, Part III, saw its true intent, saw how the funds are being used and were not pleased. They want to be sure that CRA funds are truly used to better all aspects of underserved communities through redevelopment efforts. In short, they now know better and want to do better for the sake of all Floridians; I only wish WFTV would have done the same – in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a past Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.
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