Gainesville residents peppered praise for law enforcement with deep concern about potential racial profiling and heavy-handed policing at a community meeting Monday, March 4, about increased patrols along Park Hill Drive.
According to Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish, in a two-week period ending Thursday, Feb. 28, patrol officers issued 274 citations in the area and made 36 arrests, mostly for misdemeanor crimes like possession of marijuana.
The demographics of the subjects issued a citation or arrested closely match the city’s demographics, Parrish said.
Increased police patrols
Citations and arrests Feb. 15-28 along Park Hill Drive in Gainesville
Percentage by gender and race of those citations and arrests
- African-American: 18.8 percent
- Caucasian: 49.6 percent
- Hispanic: 27 percent
- African-American: 12.3 percent
- Caucasian: 61 percent
- Hispanic: 18.5 percent
- African-American: 16.7 percent
- Caucasian: 38.5 percent
- Hispanic: 40.3 percent
Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish speaksGainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish discusses why a community meeting with local community activists and residents was important in light of recent crimes along Park Hill Drive.
Park Hill is home to a number of lower-income apartment communities, which Parrish said he believes are being “preyed upon by criminals holding tenants hostage. I believe that to be true.”
“Jay Parrish, chief of police, does not bargain with criminals,” Parrish added.
But some local residents who spoke at the meeting held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Mill Street by the Newtown Florist Club, a Gainesville civil rights organization, said they felt targeted and caught up in the recent dragnet in the area.
Danielle Smith, who works maintenance at apartment complexes along Park Hill, said she was hassled and improperly mistaken for a suspect simply because she was black and wearing gloves.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me as a black person,” Smith said.
Quintavious Hayes, who lives in the Ridgecrest Apartments, said he is worried he’ll be stereotyped and that it might give a bad impression to his little sibling.
“I don’t want my little brother to grow up that way,” he said.
Parrish said he remembers Hayes growing up as a young man and thanked him for expressing his concerns.
“It’s good to see you turned out so good,” Parrish said.
Other residents said police were targeting African-Americans who jaywalk while crossing Park Hill between the apartment complexes and local stores.
With no crosswalk or immediate intersection with a signal, crossing most anywhere is a regular occurrence.
“There’s no way to cross that street ... or you will get hit,” Teosha Jarrett said.
Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey, sitting in attendance, said he would have his office contact the Georgia Department of Transportation about what could be done to improve pedestrian safety along Park Hill, which is a state-run thoroughfare.
Jarrett also said many African-Americans fear contacting the police even on a good day, and are especially fearful of reporting officers for bad behavior.
“You’ll never know what it feels like to be black and harassed,” she said.
Parrish also said that while there are many “layers” to patrolling, he expects his officers to follow policy and takes seriously any misconduct.
Vanesa Sarazua, founder of the Hispanic Alliance, a Gainesville nonprofit, said many Latinos and immigrants living along Park Hill are too frightened to go about their daily business, for example, because of a family member’s citizenship status.
“We welcome a better relationship and more collaborative partnership with the police department,” she said.
Parrish encouraged residents to use anonymous tip lines if they are scared or uncomfortable reporting suspicious behavior, and he said his department is committed to using a new grant to increase community engagement along Park Hill.
Art Gallegos, founder of the Latino Conservative Organization and Impact Ministries, urged attendees to engage in diverse community connections and conversations to strengthen Gainesville.
“This shows that officers of the Gainesville Police Department are willing to hear us out as residents and people who work, live and support this community,” Gallegos said of the meeting. “I have needs when I call the cops and they’ve been there. We’re all here because we care.”
Norm Ficke, said he lives close to the Texaco that was robbed, and that he spends a fair amount of time in restaurants and stores along Park Hill.
“I know you get complaints,” he said, adding that he was there to “tell you you’re doing one heckuva good job.”
Rose Johnson, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, said the community must take ownership in improving relations with law enforcement.
Johnson added that there are a “lot of tensions that still need to be dealt with. It is not something the police can do all by themselves. We have a long way to go, but I really do believe we can get there.”