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Law enforcement, clergy in Gainesville discuss training, community concerns
High-profile cases lead to discussion at Antioch Baptist Church
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Gainesville Police Department Capt. Jay Parrish speaks about how officers are trained for their jobs. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Two Marines sat across from each other Thursday night at Antioch Baptist Church in Gainesville.

On one side was Capt. Jay Parrish, head of the support services bureau of the Gainesville Police Department. On the other, the Rev. Charles Dickey of St. John A.M.E. Church in Crawford.

Parrish and Dickey gathered with members of local law enforcement and the Interdenominational Black Ministers Association to discuss concerns for black community leaders and police.

The evening began with a case review, with law enforcement agency leaders providing insight on high-profile cases that sparked controversy.

The first dealt with the largest national spectacle: the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., as a result of an altercation with a police officer.

Parrish discussed the case law and Georgia code related to these force situations, pertaining to the threat of injury and self-defense.

As a result of the stress, Parrish alluded to statistics about the negative end result for both parties.

“Many times we lose two people. One to the grave and one to drugs and alcohol or he/she loses their family,” he said.

With cases like Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island, where a black man placed in a chokehold by police was filmed, attendees asked about the agencies’ use of body cameras.

Although the cameras have been used for several years by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Gainesville police have made strides in the last year in equipping officers with the gear.

Participants at Antioch asked authorities about their children and their interactions with police, considering the death of Tamir Rice in Cleveland. The 12-year-old boy was shot by an officer while Rice had a toy gun.

“I can’t even begin to comprehend the guilt the person must feel,” Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said.
In terms of interactions with police, the arguments and losing of tempers on both sides can cause situations to escalate.

“I see a lot of these force encounters happen because it starts to be this clash of testosterone,” Parrish said.

Much of the dialogue centered on training, biases and how they are used in the field.

Dickey discussed perceptions people in the community can have based on appearances.

“I’ve seen people walking away from me. I’m one of the greatest people you’re ever going to meet. But because I am who I am or the way I’m dressed, they move away from me,” he said.

Parrish mentioned his Marine days and cleaning the slate, trying to make sure officers keep an open mind.

“We’re all raised different. At a very young age, you start building biases, and hopefully they’re not based on race or anything like that,” he said.

The attendance skewed toward an older audience, as law enforcement hopes to keep reaching kids in the community.

“The people we need to talk to is the young folks,” Couch said.

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