The masked crowd responded when it was asked what it would do with $1 million.
Close the achievement gap. Provide free WiFi. Fund East Gainesville. They made one thing clear as they stood on the sidelines of Gainesville’s 5 p.m. traffic — no more funding for Gainesville Police.
More than 70 people gathered at the corner of Main Street and University Avenue Thursday evening to protest Gainesville City Commission’s proposed $1 million increase to GPD’s budget. The protest was organized by the GoDDsville Dream Defenders, the local chapter of an organization founded after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
The protesters faced University Avenue and chanted “No justice, no peace. Defund the police” before they gathered in a circle around a white tent and listened to speakers, a poet and a rapper.
In the proposed budget, the Gainesville City Commission plans to increase GPD’s budget from $36 million to $37 million next year, leading organizer Manu Osorio said. The commission also passed a $3 million plan in early August to upgrade police officers’ body cameras, Osorio said.
“We have to show that we are here together as a community, and we have the power to change things,” Osorio said.
With a red-and-white megaphone in hand, 21-year-old UF criminology and sociology senior Kiara Laurent spoke about the proposed increase to GPD’s budget. She said she wanted to empower Gainesville residents to voice their concerns.
Laurent said the $1 million increase could have been allocated to Gainesville’s housing and educational programs instead. Students and residents, like herself, struggle to pay bills and to feed themselves on a daily basis.
She said she works 30 hours a week, studies for her four UF courses and worries about how she will pay her $800 monthly rent. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the uncertainty scares her.
“There are so many overlooked issues in Gainesville that are perpetuating issues and problems that we are facing in the community as a whole,” she said. “These things could have better outcomes if we were to fund them properly.”
Brandon McKay, a 20-year-old UF biotechnology junior, read his poetry about police brutality at the protest. He wore a green mask with black text that read “I can’t breathe.”
McKay said the statement on the mask were the final words of not only 46-year-old George Floyd, but also 23-year-old Elijah McClain, who died after police placed him into a chokehold and first responders injected him with ketamine.
To McKay, the statement “I can’t breathe” isn’t only about the death of these Black men, but the lack of resources in the Black community, he said.
“It is literally suffocating us to the point where the Black community cannot breathe,” he said.
He said police are trained in a militaristic fashion that does not prepare them to handle delicate situations like in the case of George Floyd’s arrest and death. Budget increases are like a slap in the face to all the protesters, he said, especially because of local and national attention on police brutality and should be used to fund services that de-escalate these situations instead.
“It is pretty much throwing money at the problem when we are literally asking for the opposite,” McKay said.
Ava Kaplan, an 18-year-old UF political science sophomore, held a cardboard sign that said “Defund GPD Fund Social Services”
Instead of increasing GPD’s funding, the city should meet people’s basic needs, which would address the root causes of crime and decrease need for police and prisons, Kaplan said. If more money is allocated to police, more people will be brutalized and criminalized, she said.
Funding affordable housing will help residents and reduce the need for police, she said, pointing to how law enforcement evicted homeless encampments during the summer.
“The more money that goes to the police department, the more likely it is that people aren’t going to get the care that they need, and instead, they’re going to be throwing into this system,” Kaplan said.
As the protest came to an end, the only sounds heard were cars driving by and a nearby air conditioning unit. Some clapped, but for the most part, the crowd listened to Laurent and returned to the corner to chant toward Gainesville’s evening traffic.