“We begin this conversation tonight by answering the question about why we cannot let this go, because for us, it is always a matter of life, a matter of breath, and a matter of death. It’s a matter of life, breath and death every day, and we just don’t want our community to become a place where a national tragedy involving our law enforcement community is seen around the world,” she said.
The Newtown Florist Club hosted the open-air conversation Thursday, July 2, the second phase of a two-part event focused on criminal justice reform. Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin facilitated the event, with her fellow Superior Court judges, State Court judges, prosecutors and law enforcement sitting in the audience.
Johnson, the club’s executive director, said there were people who could have attended the previous event, some with criminal records, who were afraid to come, “but we will continue to work diligently to capture their stories in other ways.”
The Newtown Florist Club, Gainesville's civil rights group, planned the events in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
Floyd was held down by the knee of a police officer for roughly eight minutes and 46 seconds in a widely circulated video. The 46-year-old man died while being detained by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Four officers were fired, and criminal charges have been filed.
Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville woman, was shot eight times by narcotics detectives who knocked down her front door.
On the issue of de-escalation, Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said this year’s and the previous year’s training course on de-escalation was roughly 8-9 hours. Less time was spent on the use of deadly force. De-escalation has “far better outcomes,” the chief said.
Parrish said while it is important to have a workforce that mirrors the community it serves, he added that the department does not get a lot of diverse applications.
“Regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of any of those protected classes, what we a lot of times have is some really good people that made some bad decisions earlier, and they can’t get certified to be a police officer,” he said.
The chief called on the public to find people to become officers, adding that he has been working with local pastors for the past two years to “find better people to get into our agency.”
The Newtown Florist Club presented a list of concerns to law enforcement, including greater transparency, banning “no-knock” warrants and more body cameras for officers.
Addressing the “no-knock” warrants, Gosselin said they are a “rare occurrence in this community.”
In consulting with Chief Magistrate Court Judge Margaret Gregory, Gosselin said the court has authorized five no-knock warrants in the past 18 years.
Gosselin said there is a need for mentors in the Veterans Court program and offered other ways people can assist with the accountability court programs run through the courthouse.
She also invited members of the public to restart the “court watch” program, where interested people sat it on hearings and shared their concerns with what they experienced.
Sheriff Gerald Couch had a prior commitment and was not in attendance but sent a written response.