Having flown in from Minneapolis yesterday from visiting family, Fair Street School Principal William Campbell has watched as the violent events unfolded over recent days in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas.
“As people, we need to continue to treat each other civilly and give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” Campbell said.
One man, Philando Castile, 32, was killed after a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minn., the second notable shooting by police in a week. Protesters took to the Dallas downtown streets Thursday, when 14 people were shot by sniper fire and five police officers were killed.
To the Rev. Evelyn Johnson of Gainesville, the acts from recent days have been “unsettling” and “inhumane.”
“From the clergy perspective, as I see it, the acts of violence is not in the use of guns but what is the behind the thought pattern of the user with these guns that causes hate to rise as it has,” she said.
Scott Cagle, director of planning and preparedness at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, said he felt a little unnerved walking in to a convenience store wearing his badge and gun. Cagle formerly served with Hall County Fire Services before his retirement last August
“I was a firefighter for 23 years and this is the first time feeling this way in my public safety career,” Cagle said. “People always loved to see the firefighters coming because they knew they were there to help. However, law enforcement are there to help as well. Just a sad day.”
The Rev. Rose Johnson of the Newtown Florist Club, a Gainesville civil rights group, said there is much work to be done for a community concerned about the quality of life for those “victimized across the nation and law enforcement officers that have also been killed as well as their families.”
“It is going to take a lot of consistent, deliberate, intentional effort in order for our community to move to a different place, a place where we can say as Gainesville/Hall County community ... that we can be the city and county that can provide a model for the nation when crises erupts,” Rose Johnson said. “We can be a model for the nation in terms of how we treat our citizens from a law enforcement perspective.”
Watching the videos that have surfaced of Castile’s death and Alton Sterling, a man shot by law enforcement in Baton Rouge, La., Campbell said he thought back to his own experiences with law enforcement. Years ago, he recalled an incident where he was pulled over by an officer for tinted windows.
“I looked in my little side mirror, and as the police officer was approaching the car, he had his hand on his gun,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he believes it is not a skin issue but a sin issue, as some people may fear those they do not know and may be quick to judgment.
“We need to not allow incidents like this to change the raising of our kids,” he said. “We need to continue to teach our kids to be respectful to authority.”
Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch said in a statement that “debates and arguments, facts and theories” will continue on for weeks as it becomes necessary in a discussion and “vital to finding a solution. The sheriff stressed the loss of human life.
“Hall County is blessed to have men and women who put on the uniform every day and do their own small part,” Couch said in a statement. “As your sheriff, it’s my privilege to lead those men and women. Together, we all stand in support of our fellow Officers in Dallas, and ask that we all pray for the families of those fallen officers and their comrades.”
Evelyn Johnson said the community must continue to engage one another in conversation with a diversity of opinions, as no one segment of society has all the answers. The reverend lauded the work of the Gainesville Police Department for its outreach to the community.
“The Gainesville community has been reaching out to the officers this morning to show their support and this in itself speaks volumes,” Gainesville Police Chief Carol Martin wrote in a statement. “I ask that all keep this nation, this community and each other in their thoughts and prayers each day.”
The Newtown Florist Club said it plans to release a statement in the coming days regarding the recent events.
“It is the bad seed that never grows, only rots in the ground once it is sewn…. But a good seed reaps many, many beautiful branches and flowers, something that the community can enjoy,” Evelyn Johnson said.
“In an uncertain world, I am grateful to live in the United States of America and for those law enforcement officers who risk much in order to protect and defend us each day,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said in a statement. “I pray that as we reflect and mourn, that together, we will unite around our common ideals and respect for life.”
Gov. Nathan Deal has issued an executive order lowering flags in honor of five police officers killed and seven wounded by gunmen in Dallas.
Deal revised his order Friday afternoon, hours after issuing a version saying the five officers were “gunned down in a coordinated sniper attack during an anti-police protest.” The Republican was criticized for describing the Dallas protest of recent fatal police shootings in Baton Rouge, La., and suburban St. Paul, Minn., as “anti-police.” Deal’s office later said he was referring to the shooting, “not to those peacefully demonstrating.”
The order lowers the U.S. and Georgia state flags to half-staff on all Department of Public Safety buildings and grounds until sunset Sunday.
Associated Press reports contributed to this story.