“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble” was something the late civil rights leader John Lewis would say to encourage a just world, and “good trouble” was something the Newtown Florist Club encouraged among the community at a rally Thursday evening.
Reverend Rose Johnson, leader of the club, encouraged progress as she opened the rally, which was organized in response to the recent Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, and at the end shared a few of her own thoughts. She said while nothing like this is going on in our community, it’s hard to be a Black American and separate from the death of George Floyd, and of others, like Daunte Wright, who was shot and killed by police in Minneapolis when the officer mistook her gun and TASER.
“The reason we keep doing this is because if we don’t keep coming to you, if we don’t keep raising the questions, if we don’t keep asking questions like, ‘can this really happen here? Can Daunte’s death, something like that, really happen here?’ ‘Cause we don’t know,” said Johnson. “We don’t know what our policies and procedures are about TASER use, right? But we would love to know. We would love to know because we need some kind of reassurance, right, that Daunte’s death, a death like his, cannot happen here.”
Johnson urged community members to learn about the local law, procedures, policies, and protocol, and to contact local law enforcement to ask questions and make their voices known.
“I said we were going to have events after this to talk about it more, but no,” Johnson said during an emotional statement at the end of the rally. “You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to do it yourself because it can happen to our teenagers, and it can happen to our kids at the drop of a dime because we know how fragile their little minds are.”
Johnson said as a Black person, separating the deaths of people like Floyd and Wright from herself was difficult.
"We have a dream, but it is a necessary dream, it's not a figment of our imagination because it has to come to pass, because for us it's a matter of life and death," Johnson said. "Because every time my grandson goes out, I... I cringe at thought. I say, 'don't do this, don't do that, don't go there,' and I'm telling you, I'm tired. I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired and I don't know what happens when you get so tired that you just can't hardly take it anymore, because tomorrow night they'll be another case but we can't disconnect it from where we are right now because, gosh. It just hits so hard."
Community activist Devin Pandy encouraged creating relationships with local law enforcement, beyond just when there's a traffic stop or a 911 call.
"Let us get to know our officers. Let them get to know us," he said. "Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said, and I quote - 'To me, community policing is building bonds. It's making a connection. It's easy to be mad at the police, but it's very difficult to be mad at someone that you know on a first name basis' - end quote.
"Yes. I wholeheartedly agree. But I challenge all of you to think beyond that statement. Because it is also true that it is much more difficult to shoot someone, or to kneel on their neck for nine minutes when you know them on a first name basis."
Pandy told the crowd that he wants to believe the statements from law enforcement striving to create better police forces and said that their work matters. He also wanted to hear that the citizens and community mattered from those agencies.
Gainesville City School Board member Willie Mitchell spoke about the changes he saw, statistically, among Black men in America from his first term on the board over 30 years ago to now. Among other statistics, he said the rate of interaction between a Black man and law enforcement was 1:3 now, when before it was 1:6.
"I looked at those numbers and it made me mad. It made me so mad," he said. "And I tell you what I really thought about doing. I said, when this country was formed there were some people in Boston that got so mad from the oppression, they threw some tea in the Boston harbor. Don't you know I started to go get me a chicken in Lake Lanier?"
Joking aside, Mitchell asked himself what came out of that anger, and realized the Boston Tea Party could be a lesson. "What came out of it was the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.
"In order for this thing to work, 'We the people' can't be something that we say, it's got to be something that we do. And the only way we can do that is to make sure that is make sure equal opportunity is real - and when I say real, I mean it's got to be real for everybody. So I just wonder about the police brutality and things like that and the only thing I notice over the years is that changed from Rodney King to George Floyd was just the quality of the video.
"I looked at that and I said, you know what though? This 'We the people' thing can work. And the reason why the 'We the people' thing can work is for the simple fact: we gotta ask the right questions to the right source."
While both Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish and Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch had prior engagements and were unable to attend the rally, both submitted answers to questions posed by the Newtown Florist Club. Their responses are posted below. Both encouraged honest and open communication between law enforcement and the community.
Other speakers include elected officials, local activists members of the Public Policy Committee. Topics included poverty, homelessness, racial bias, criminal reform, and faith. About 50 people joined together for the event at the Midtown Greenway on Grove Street.