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'A space for listening' — Civil rights club plans discussion June 18 with police, court officials
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Newtown Florist Club executive director Rose Johnson leads a crowd gathered Monday, June 1, 2020, in song as hundreds gather in Gainesville in reaction to the death of George Floyd and the issues of police brutality and systemic racism. - photo by Scott Rogers

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Newtown Florist Club is hosting a two-part open-air conversation with members of law enforcement and the judiciary.

The first event at 6 p.m. June 18 at the midtown pedestrian bridge was described by the civil rights group as “a space for listening, a time for healing and an opportunity to explore equal justice issues with black and brown people.”

The Rev. Rose Johnson, the club’s executive director, said the goal is for voices in the community to be heard and to shape an effective strategy for change.

“Their lived experiences are important in understanding how we move forward collectively in our hope for change and reform in the entire criminal justice process,” she said.

George 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.

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville woman, was shot eight times by narcotics detectives who knocked down her front door.

Taylor's death led to protests and a review of how Louisville police use "no knock" search warrants, which allow officers to enter a home without announcing their presence.

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Family attorney Ben Crump, left, escorts Quincy Mason, second from left, a son of George Floyd, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Minneapolis, as they and some Floyd family members visited a memorial where Floyd was arrested on May 25 and died while in police custody. Video shared online by a bystander showed a white officer kneeling on his neck during his arrest as he pleaded that he couldn't breathe. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) - photo by Associated Press
Open-Air Conversation

What: Discussion concerning law enforcement, the jail and the criminal justice system

Where: Grassy end of the midtown pedestrian bridge, accessible from Jesse Jewell Parkway

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18

A second part of the conversation will be held July 2 at the same location.

For more information or registering to speak, call 770-718-1343 or email newtown193@gmail.com

“In this community where we live, all of those issues are part of the lived experiences of many of the people in this community, but I believe that it is only when we sit down together and collectively listen and hear. Not to be adversarial, not to be accusatory, but just listening to ways that we can improve the processes,” Johnson said.

The second part of the open-air conversation will be July 2 at the same location, where law enforcement and judiciary officials will share their concerns with the community.

Johnson said Superior and State Court judges have been invited to attend the conversation.

Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden confirmed his plan to attend

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said he was planning to attend “what appears to be a constructive, helpful meeting and look forward to mostly listening to the members of the community who will be present.”

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Sheriff Gerald Couch - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch and Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish were unavailable when reached by The Times.

“The sheriff has said he looks forward to hearing the concerns and ideas of those in attendance as well as sharing his thoughts and ideas with them. Meaningful conversation with the community is always a positive,” according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office has started a series on Facebook answering community questions regarding the department’s policies. One question concerned the use of chokeholds or other “carotid restraints.”

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Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish

“Any tactic that restricts breathing is not an authorized restraint and is strictly prohibited in the policy and procedures of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. Tactics that restrict breathing are not taught by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. Only reasonable and necessary force can be used,” according to the Sheriff’s Office

The Sheriff’s Office also addressed the levels of training related to use of force, mental health and crisis intervention.

The department said they “fully condemn the actions of the officers in Minneapolis that led to George Floyd’s death.”  

“We truly are servants and peacekeepers of our community, and what happened to Mr. Floyd is not what we’re about or reflected in our training, mission or oath. As much or more so than anyone else, we want the few individuals who tarnish the badge to be held fully accountable.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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