Teenagers of Generation Inspiration came together Saturday morning at the Beulah Rucker Museum to ask Gainesville’s government and law enforcement officials some tough questions about the justice system and their rights.
Inspired by recent police incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and McKinney, Texas, the group of Gainesville High School students organized a no-questions-held-back discussion called “Teen Lives Matter!”
“Lately, the media has been putting a lot of emphasis on police brutality, especially with minorities,” Bleu Bell, 16, said.
Belle, the new Generation Inspiration president, said a goal of the discussion was to help her peers understand the local impact of these national incidents.
“We always think, ‘Oh, no, it happened over there,’ but that ‘over there’ could one day become here, and you won’t know what to do unless you have these community symposiums to help you understand what to do if this happens,” she said.
Belle and 18-year-old Timothy Folsom, former GI president, were both eager to have the diverse panel speak.
“Having perspective from law enforcement and from the judicial standpoint along with the opinion of a student, that’s so many different perspectives. It’s worth listening to,” Folsom said.
The panel included a rising high school sophomore, a police officer, a judge, a councilwoman, a probation officer and a lawyer.
Attorney John Breakfield said he felt being on the panel was important, because second-hand information and social media can be misleading.
“Anytime you can communicate about law enforcement and legal issues to young people, it’s a good idea,” Breakfield said.
“Instead of having Facebook, we can have a conversation face-to-face with them.”
Cpl. Cory Cummings answered many of the questions about police encounters and officer training, giving students a breakdown of everything police carry, including an explanation of how body cameras work.
“With the current technology in these systems our body cameras turn on as soon as we turn on the blue lights,” he said. “Every patrol officer in Gainesville has a body camera.”
If students were to ever have an encounter with a police officer, Judge Graham McKinnon advised de-escalation and patience.
“What we’re looking for is justice, and justice is a process, and sometimes you just don’t get it on the spot, especially when you’re in a heated situation,” he said.
“When you find yourself in that position where you think your rights have been violated, put it in your pocket and save it for the appropriate time. Just keep in mind that justice is a process that’s not always resolved on the spot.”
To close the discussion, Cummings said he wanted students to understand that the relationship between officers and the public should always be one of community, not “us vs. them.”
“We are the ‘us,’” he said motioning to the crowd.
“The ‘them’ is the criminals who will steal from you, and attack you and do horrible things. It is us versus them, but we all work as a team. We come to work every day to serve and protect you all, because you are on our team.”