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Saturday, January 16, 2021

ACSO says it has already met calls for police reform, community members say they want more

Defund Police sign

At a June 13 demonstration near the Gainesville Police Department, protesters chant "No justice, no peace," and a sign reading "Defund The Police" can be seen in the background. 

In the wake of several killings of Black Americans by police, activists around the U.S. are seeking justice and an end to police brutality.

The #8cantwait campaign, created by Campaign Zero, an activist-led group started in 2015 to tackle police policy, is a call to action that would bring immediate change to police departments nationwide, according to its website. The campaign focuses on implementing eight policies that the organization says would reduce use of force and save lives.

The eight policies are to ban chokeholds and strangleholds, require de-escalation, warn before shooting, exhaust all alternatives before shooting, implement a duty to intervene, ban shooting at moving vehicles, require the use of force continuum and demand more comprehensive reporting of police incidents.

These action steps are already in place as Alachua County’s Sheriff’s Office is in compliance with all eight recommendations, said ACSO Spokesperson Art Forgey. All deputies and employees are trained to follow all eight policies and even required to sign copies of the regulations.

“Ever since Sheriff Darnell has been in office, we have had these policies in place, so it is nothing new to us,” Forgey said. “It's ingrained in us, and we are happy to be at the forefront of this change.”

ACSO employees are encouraged to hold others accountable, Forgey said. The sheriff’s office also investigates wrongdoing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

To activist Jhody Polk, compliance with #8cantwait policies isn’t enough.

The 36-year-old said she has no hope that #8cantwait will make a difference in the lives of Black community members.

“How dare the public defender say, ‘We are compliant,’” Polk said. “Yes, it may be true, but ask the people because they will know if it is followed or not. It’s bull****.”

Though there are changes being made in policing policies nationwide, there isn’t much significant action in Gainesville, Polk said. As a formerly incarcerated west Gainesville resident, Polk said she’s terrified by the police presence in her neighborhood.

“That fear of police goes deeper than anyone can imagine,” she said. “Violence is violence, and though we are not seeing Black people killed in the street in Gainesville, we still experience police in various forms.”

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Aside from these eight policies, Polk said she believes there’s a lot more to the Black Lives Matter movement than just protesting. Some directly impacted Black individuals, including those who have been incarcerated, haven’t participated in protests. To Polk, changes can’t happen without them.

While speaking at the June 12 Dream Defenders march, Polk encouraged activists to promote “Know justice and know peace” instead of chanting “no justice, no peace.” She also challenged the crowd to hold county courthouses and elected officials accountable.

“You don’t know my peace, so you can’t know my justice. And saying ‘I can’t breathe’ is traumatizing because I can’t count the number of times I hold my own breath for my safety and my 15-year-old son’s safety,” Polk said.

Polk believes change can come from participatory budgeting, in which citizens vote on budget allocation, instead of #8cantwait or completely defunding the police. She also said cultural awareness, relationship building and community awareness about law can also make a world of difference.

“Right now, the solutions are not going to come from police accountability,” she said. “They are going to come from community accountability and having conversations with Black people.”

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