At Tuesday’s Levy County board meeting, Commissioner Matt Brooks held up a list of signatures from 60 homeowners along County Road 318, where CrabFest 2021 has been advertised to take place in three weeks. Brooks said the board has to listen to the people who are speaking out against having an event in their backyards.
Levy Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) then approved a proclamation declaring April “Williston Wants Peace — No More Violence” month.
Before Brooks read the proclamation, pastors from the Ministerial Faith Alliance in Williston and resident Gussie Boatright told the board about concerns over CrabFest 2021 and the rise of violence happening in Williston.
Boatright referred to the 2013 killing of a Gainesville man who was shot at the CrabFest event and died while being airlifted to the hospital. She also talked of her grief from the loss of her grandson Khajon Lamont Spikes who was shot and killed on Feb. 20 at the Marathon gas station at the intersection of CR 318 and US Alt 27 in Williston.
Boatright said she has worked on organizing many events with the City of Williston.
“It’s important when you invite people to your community, your city, your neighborhood, that you have a plan to keep people safe,” she said. Boatright added that while she is in favor of having cultural events in Williston, CrabFest 2021 was not planned properly to protect the residents and event attendees.
Ministerial Faith Alliance pastors Johnnie Jones and Willie Battles echoed her concerns. Jones said CrabFest provided an opportunity for outsiders with criminal intent to cause harm.
“Pause and make the necessary changes,” Jones said. “It’s common sense not to use our yards to house strangers. Regroup to find a safe venue and plan better.”
Battles said that as a community leader it is his job to do “everything I can to protect our community. Plan it right,” he said. “This is not the right time for it.”
Jones and Battles said that Brooks has taken most of the blame for the push to cancel CrabFest 2021, but many residents, business owners and community leaders, not just Brooks, believe the event poses a danger.
“These are real signatures from real residents who live around the area where this event takes place,” Brooks said as he held up the petition from homeowners who oppose the event. He then held up a graphic that showed where those houses are located. “This event affects our community and real people who don’t want this event or to put people in harm’s way.”
Previous CrabFest events have drawn thousands of attendees who travel from as far away as New York to attend. “It started as a small event but, in recent years, has become the largest public safety event in Williston and Levy County,” Brooks said.
“There is a growing trend of violence in East unincorporated Williston,” Brooks said. And he added that it was up to community leaders, teachers and law enforcement to set an example to end violence.
“All citizens must do their part to become part of the solution,” he said.
The commission approved the proclamation for peace then confirmed with county staff that CrabFest organizer Kenuel Gates had not filed an event permit application by the April 5 deadline.
Brooks then requested that the BOCC authorize an injunction to be filed against Gates regarding the promotion of Crabfest 2021.
The motion was seconded and approved unanimously. Gates was present at the meeting but did not speak and has not replied to a request for comment about the injunction. On Monday he told Mainstreet Daily News he had canceled all musical acts and no longer needed a special events permit.
Brooks said canceling CrabFest would lessen the opportunity for violence in Williston. The Levy County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) provided expense and arrest reports about the financial and criminal impacts that previous CrabFest events have had on Levy County and Williston.
CrabFest cost Levy County $10,024 in 2013, $16,660 in 2014, $18,500 in 2015, $18,793 in 2016, $22,109 in 2017, $26,272 in 2018 and $26,982 in 2019. Those figures do not account for the expenses incurred by neighboring counties law enforcement or the ongoing investigations by LCSO in open investigations.
According to a report by LCSO spokesperson Scott Tummond, arrests related to the past CrabFest events that include LCSO, Florida Highway Patrol and Marion County Sheriff’s Office are three arrests in 2017, 23 arrests in 2018 and 14 arrests in 2019.
“We must be good stewards of tax dollars,” Brooks said, noting cost was a factor in the BOCC decision to file the injunction. “We just need to figure out how to do a cultural event and do it safely.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include quotes from Tuesday’s Levy BOCC meeting. This story was also updated to correct an erroneous reference to “Levin County” and to note Gates was present at the meeting.