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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sunday’s events have left many of us here at the Alligator heavy-hearted. We’ve reported on more student deaths and tragedies this semester than we can care to count, yet 16-year-old Robert Dentmond’s death is particularly troubling for us to discuss.

Given the fact this is a case of police violence in the year 2016, people are bound to bring, over the next few days, their personal political leanings regarding police violence and mass shootings into the mix of Dentmond’s death. We hope to maintain the objectivity of our concerns and criticisms of how law enforcement handled this entire situation.

By now you’ve probably read a number of reports, whether from our reporters or other outlets: Dentmond called 9-1-1 to disclose his possession of an M16 rifle and his desire to commit suicide. Officers and deputies, some with Crisis Intervention Training, responded to the scene and attempted to negotiate with Dentmond before shooting him after he picked up what now has been identified as a replica gun and began backing away toward the apartment buildings.

It’s easy to, at first glance, point fingers at the police. While we can’t ignore our concern that bullets were fired not only at Dentmond, but into the surrounding homes, we also understand why the nine officers reacted how they did. Based on a video recorded from a neighbor’s balcony, it wasn’t a split-second decision. It was a decision that came after 20 minutes of negotiation, pleading and multiple warnings. We could never make that decision, and we can’t judge those who have to. 

Our primary concern is with the community we heard in the original video, which has now been taken down after more than 1,000 shares on Facebook. In the video, witnesses are heard heckling and yelling at the situation, even going so far as to say that this would “put Gainesville on the map.”

How could we, as a community, be so insensitive to those around us? A standoff between a teenager and police is not something that needs lighthearted commentary from a balcony. A single voice was heard warning others that this could be a sad situation. That voice of compassion should have been every voice. 

There are far too many people in this world without a hope for tomorrow, and that is the person police say they heard Sunday night. We can’t make judgement on what was going through Dentmond’s mind, and we will never know for sure why he made the phone call and why he picked up the gun. What we do know is a loss of a life is always something to be mourned, and Dentmond is no exception. 

Don’t point the finger, but instead extend your hand and thoughts to Dentmond’s family as we at the Alligator do today. His death should not be used to prove a point about police brutality or motivation for law enforcement funding. It should be a reminder to cherish the lives of those around us and a reminder of our duty as a community to not trivialize a situation we cannot fully understand.

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