GAINESVILLE – Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish invited comments Monday evening from members of the audience filling Bethel AME Church on Mill Street, and he got them.
Parrish and members of his leadership team listened as eight people stepped to the podium to share their thoughts regarding recent increased police presence along the Park Hill Drive corridor.
The Newtown Florist Club hosted the community meeting with Rev. Rose Johnson, Executive Director of the club, serving as moderator. Johnson said she had heard both support and criticism for the increased patrols. That split showed in the comments brought to the podium.
Area residents Charles Lovell and Norm Fickle thanked Parrish for the increase in patrols. Lovell said he worked at a convenience store and had been held up at gunpoint twice. “It kind of hangs with you when you’ve had a gun put in your face; you don’t know if people are going to pull the trigger or not.”
Fickle urged Parrish to keep up the good work.
Parrish thanked them for their words of encouragement.
Quintavious Hayes has lived in the area for nearly a decade. He thanked Parrish for the heightened effort to combat drug dealing, gang activity and violent crimes in his neighborhood, but said he “feels” the second and third glances he gets from passing patrol cars, “…because I have dreads (dreadlocks) and I’m young and black, and I don’t want my little brother to grow up and feel the same way.”
Parrish told Hayes, “I remember you as a young child…and it’s good to see that you’ve not only grown up to be a great adult but are willing to come to a community meeting, to reach collaboration, and we can work on that as we get some youth neighborhood programs going.”
Art Gallegos, founder of the Latino Conservative Organization and Impact Ministries, and Vanesa Sarazua, founder of the Hispanic Alliance of Georgia, spoke on behalf of the Hispanic community that is a large part of the Park Hill Drive corridor.
Sarazua asked Parrish to consider the concerns the Hispanic population feels because, as Sarazua confided, not all of them are in the United States legally, and they fear police encounters where a jaywalking offense could lead to their imprisonment and deportation.
Parrish assured Sarazua that individuals taken into custody by GPD often go to the Hall County Jail. “I as a police chief have no discretion once somebody is arrested if another agency becomes involved in their detention,” he explained.
Expressing concern over the increased police presence was Danelle Smith. Smith works at Park Hill Apartments and told Parrish of her encounter with one of his officers. She said the officer was not normally assigned to the Park Hill corridor and did not know who she was.
The officer stopped her while she was working, saying she fit the description of a robbery suspect. “I took offense with it…it went south from there…now residents don’t want me to come into their apartments because I have four police cars behind me.”
“Every Black person is not a criminal; every Spanish person is not a criminal…there’s always a good way that you can approach a person and I think you guys need to work on that,” Smith said.
Parrish told Smith, “I would like to talk with you more and I don’t even mind coming to your office. Sometimes it can be police officer misconduct and I’m gonna take care of that.”
Teosha Jarrett lives in the Park Hill Drive corridor and said her children now fear the police due to an incident where she said she had been harassed by an officer. She said her effort to lodge a complaint against the officer backfired.
“I called the same day,” Jarrett explained. “I told his supervisor how he had treated me, because he misused his badge…but it’s a dead end.”
Jarrett said two days later officers came to her home and arrested her for Obstruction of an Officer and Disorderly Conduct. “Anybody in here knows if you cuss a police officer out you’re going to jail that same day, not two days later.”
Gainesville City Councilwoman Barbara Brooks took the microphone briefly and invited anyone afraid of contacting police to call her. “Contact me…I’ll make sure the Police Department follows the right procedure. If you feel uncomfortable about that activity let me know and I’ll take the heat for it.” Brooks promised that those calling her would remain anonymous.
Others spoke, some expressing concern, some expressing appreciation for the increased patrols.
Parrish said, “I think these community meetings are great avenues for us to reach collaboration. Police cannot create a safe community by police action alone. I need the community’s help…my officers need the community’s help.”
Reverend Johnson agreed, saying in closing, “Chief Parrish, this issue of being afraid of the police, we have to work together to bring that temperature down. It is not something that the police can do by themselves. We have a long way to go, but I really do believe that we can get there.”