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City commission discusses Black Lives Matter recognition and policing reforms

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Updated at 3:00 p.m. on June 23 to reflect new information from the City Clerk. She changed #2 under the last bullet point from “Who answers 911 calls?” to “Who Should Respond to 911 Calls?”. Note that the original language reflects what was on the screen when the motion was considered by the city commission.

In a Gainesville City Commission Special Meeting today, the commissioners discussed several topics related to equity and policing.

The first item was “Public Recognition of Black Lives Matter,” specifically some sort of public art installation or renaming something to honor Black Lives Matter. Commissioner Harvey Ward talked about the streets that were painted and renamed in Washington, D.C.: “Sounds like an interesting idea, we should pursue something like that here.” 

Commissioner Gigi Simmons agreed that would be a great idea and said that community centers, particularly on the east side of Gainesville, would benefit from murals. Mayor Lauren Poe said that the art installation in front of City Hall is designed to be refreshed periodically, so they could do something there. 

Commissioner Gail Johnson proposed making Juneteenth (June 19) a City holiday. City Equal Opportunity (EO) Director Teneeshia Marshall proposed setting up a committee for Juneteenth planning for next year. 

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Simmons also proposed that the city commission issue a resolution acknowledging equality and Black Lives Matter. Poe reminded her that he had issued a Juneteenth proclamation this past Friday.

Johnson proposed a volunteer policy for the City that would permit City employees to volunteer with social justice organizations during work hours. City Manager Lee Feldman explained that the City could not limit such a policy to only “social justice” organizations; a more common policy would allow employees to volunteer with most nonprofits.

Commissioner David Arreola wanted commissioners to give authorization to the charter officers to begin forming a Juneteenth committee. Regarding a street display, he proposed focusing on the long term “because people are asking for substantive change.” He asked that any banners be focused on “centering and supporting Gainesville’s black communities, instead of just a national sort of movement… It’s trying to make sure that in Gainesville, we are centering and lifting our black community voices much higher and much stronger than they’d ever been supported.” 

Commissioner Harvey Ward made a 3-part motion: 1) Direct staff to prepare and display at least one and preferably more Black Lives Matter banners in the city, sooner rather than later; 2) Empower Parks and Cultural Affairs to begin working with staff on a proposal to work with the community to put murals on City structures and report back; and 3) Direct staff to form a committee to begin work on Juneteenth celebrations and resolutions as necessary for next Juneteenth.

Public comment on the motion mainly reflected the idea that public displays weren’t adequate: “What we really want is reform in the police department.”

Ward agreed that it was “appropriate and necessary to put a visual support of Black Lives Matter in our city, as well as longer, artistic support and cultural affairs support behind it, but that’s not all that we even have on today’s agenda. We’re not going to hang a banner and move on. But if we don’t hang a banner, we’ve missed an opportunity, frankly. And there are things that need to be done with immediacy and things that need to be done with planning and things that need to face the reality of systemic racism, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and we should.”

The motion passed unanimously.

The second item was a presentation from Marshall on “Responding to Racial Tension in the City.” Marshall recommended forming a “community-facing” community response team to be prepared for future crises, and Johnson was very enthusiastic about the idea: “This is a fantastic idea, it’s brilliant, I am SO thrilled that you brought this forward, it’s exactly what we need, really good thinking behind this, thank you… like, I’m HAPPY.”

Simmons moved that they instruct the EO Office to create a community response team. The discussion moved back onto the topic of allowing City employees to volunteer during work hours, and they heard from GRU about a program they have for their employees (a former City Manager had declined to create a similar program on the General Government side in the past). They then added the creation of a volunteer program, focusing on the racial and economic inequities identified in the Friendship 7 report, to the motion. The motion passed unanimously. 

The third item was Ward’s request to convene a Citizen Police Review and Recommendations Panel. Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said they may want to “reimagine” the existing Police Advisory Council (PAC) instead of creating a new one. 

Poe said that the Gainesville Police Department (GPD) receives 93,000 emergency (911) calls every year, and those calls will come in, regardless of who is designated to answer them. He underscored the urgency of doing something now.

Ward made the following motion:

  • Expand the Police Advisory Council with more citizens appointed by the city commission to reflect the city’s racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity. 
  • Form a subcommittee of the PAC to work on the proposed police review, soliciting input from the Fraternal Order of Police (the police union). The subcommittee will: 1) Pay particular attention to how existing operations and procedures affect communities and individuals of color, especially black residents, as well as other historically and currently marginalized communities and individuals; 2) Pay particular attention to programs that are working and having a positive impact, as well as to allegations of improper behavior and offer specific solutions to address them in a new system; 3) Consider what, if any, current GPD functions and practices might best be delivered by a different existing or new department; 4) Consider what, if any, current GPD functions and practices should be ended; 5) Consider what, if any, current GPD functions and practices should be better-supported; and 6) Offer proposals for reform as clear, stand-alone modules that consider logistical and funding concerns, with special attention to how they affect communities and individuals of color, in particular black residents, as well as other historically and currently marginalized communities and individuals.
  • The PAC will develop a procedure for complainants to bring their cases before the PAC for review.
  • The PAC add use of force reviews to the list of PAC reviews.
  • The PAC will provide a quarterly report to the City Commission on the activities of the PAC.
  • The PAC will host summits on police transformation. 
  • The PAC will study increasing the use of Police Service Technicians and renaming the program “Community Service Technicians” to have more non-weaponized officers respond to calls.
  • The city commission will schedule a Special Meeting for July 13 at 9:00 a.m. to discuss: 1) Adult civil citations; 2) Who should respond to 911 calls? 3) Accountability of officers; 4) Body camera funding and use; 5) Use of force policies; 6) Police training; and 7) Community policing.

The vote to pass the motion was unanimous.

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