Confrontation in Florida highlights racial tensions, prompts calls for change | Video
WELLINGTON — A tense, racially charged exchange between teenagers and an unidentified man in a Wellington neighborhood on Sunday has resulted in a social media video and calls for change in the village.
“It’s not going away,” said Tony Nelson, 62, a 33-year Wellington resident — and a member of one of the village’s first Black families — whose granddaughter was seemingly targeted in the incident. “I can’t let it die. … People aren’t understanding what’s going on.”
When his granddaughter, Breonna Nelson-Hicks, 15, burst through the front door Sunday, she was scared, Nelson said.
A man she didn’t know had followed her and her friends home. He was yelling at them, she told her grandfather.
The five teens were riding in a golf cart Sunday afternoon in the Nelsons’ Wellington neighborhood when the man began following them in his Toyota sedan, according to Nelson, the teens and a police report filed that afternoon.
The teens had crossed Lake Worth Road from one development, The Isles, to Grand Isles, where the Nelsons live. They stopped at the guard gate, then began driving to Breonna’s house.
That’s when the teens said the tailgating began. The car was too close to the golf cart, they said, and the boy driving the cart tried to pull to the side to allow the vehicle to pass them. The car stayed behind them, however, the driver glowering at the group, they said.
Frightened, the boys stopped the cart and ran. The three girls began walking the rest of the way to Breonna’s house.
But the car still followed.
As Breonna and her friends approached her house, the man stopped his car and began yelling, she later told her grandfather.
That’s when, like so many people being confronted in recent weeks, Breonna’s friend pulled out her cellphone and began recording.
The video lasts about a minute and a half. It documents what Nelson later would say “was not about the golf cart.”
“I don’t care if you take my picture … because you don’t belong in this development,” the man yelled at Breonna, as heard in the video.
Breonna is Black. Her two friends are white. According to the video posted on social media and shared by Nelson with The Palm Beach Post, a tense verbal exchange then followed.
“What’s your name?” the man asked Breonna.
“I’m not telling you,” the girls replied.
“I live here,” Breonna said.
“OK, where do you live?” he asked.
“Why would I tell you any of this?” one of the girls said.
“OK, I’m going to call the gate and have you all arrested,” the man said, adding to Breonna, “You do not deserve to be in here.”
“OK,” one of the girls replied. “What did we even do wrong?”
The man turned to the woman who lives across the street from the Nelsons. Hearing the commotion, she had come outside and stood at the foot of her driveway.
“Seriously?” the man said to her. “I have to wait for five minutes while they’re strutting around in the road.”
That’s when Breonna suggested she go inside to get her grandfather. As she walked to her front door, the man appeared to begin to follow her.
“Yeah, bring him out right now, bring him out right now,” the man said.
The neighbor can be heard behind him speaking to the teens: “Just don’t argue, guys,” she said. “It’s not worth it.”
The teens thanked her and were met with more yells from the man.
“It is because you’re driving illegally,” the man said.
“OK, but you’re coming at 15-year-olds,” the girl holding the cellphone said.
“So you’re going to hit us with a car?” the other teen said.
“Because you’re 15 years old?” the man said. “You could marry in Mississippi or Alabama.”
The girls scoffed at this. As they began to reply, Nelson came out of his house and is then heard speaking to the man, who put up his hand as Nelson walked toward him.
“Don’t stick your hand out,” Nelson said. “Did you threaten a child?”
“I did not threaten, I did not threaten a child,” the man said, lowering his hands and beginning to back away.
“I have it on video,” the girl recording said.
Nelson told the girls to go inside, then asked to see the video.
That’s when the video stops.
In an interview with The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday, Nelson said he continued to speak to the man, who told Nelson he lived a couple of streets over.
“You threatened these kids,” Nelson said he told him again.
The man tried to defend his actions, Nelson said. He spoke about apologizing to the teens.
But Nelson said it was too late. The damage was done.
Breonna was “hysterical” when she ran into the house to get him, Nelson said.
“You were totally inappropriate and you scared the girls,” Nelson told him.
Nelson, whom Breonna lovingly calls “Lito” — short for “abuelito,” Spanish for grandfather — called the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to file a report.
So did the man. The report requested by The Palm Beach Post did not include the man’s name, citing an exemption for 911 callers or people requesting emergency services.
On Wednesday, PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera said in an email that the man told deputies he had “almost hit the golf cart being driven by” the teens.
“We received two calls and when the deputies arrived, the male had already gone home,” Barbera wrote in the email. “Deputies did speak to the juveniles and made contact with the male next day. Based on both accounts no crime was committed.”
Nelson told the Post the responding deputies were “very cordial, very polite” and shook their heads as they watched the video.
The incident happened two days after Nelson, who has been a civic leader in Wellington, had talked with Village Manager Paul Schofield about getting more involved in the community.
With daily protests in Wellington and officials under fire, plus the added threat of the novel coronavirus, Wellington is facing tough times, Schofield said.
Nelson has been “a very positive force in the community,” Schofield said. Nelson was president of the Boys and Girls Club in Wellington for six years.
More recently, he stepped up in his role as chief operating officer of Premier Family Health in Wellington to help form a public-private partnership with the village and county to run a coronavirus test site at Village Park, Schofield said.
“Where we are at now is we need to listen to what our community is saying,” Schofield said.
That’s where Nelson would come in. When the two had spoken on Friday, Nelson said they discussed ways he could get more involved in the dialogue happening in Wellington.
“And then this happens in my driveway Sunday afternoon,” Nelson said, adding, “This can happen in Wellington.”
Breonna was in disbelief that this could happen in her community, where she has grown up.
Nelson told her, “Breonna, this could happen anywhere.”
He said it’s been too long since he was involved in the community.
After the man left, after the deputies left, Nelson admitted that he watched the video another 15 or 20 times.
“I got more and more angry,” he said.
Nelson wants to turn his anger into something productive.
“Shame on me if I just walk away because normally I have a comfortable life,” he said.