The death of George Floyd sparked a national conversation about police brutality and reform. As local and national elections draw nearer, polls show that candidates' stance on police reform is becoming a key issue for some voters.
This year, Ted Yoho, who has represented Florida’s 3rd District in the House since 2013, is not running for reelection. Voters must choose between 10 Republican and three Democrat candidates vying for the seat in the Aug. 18 primary election.
With less than a month remaining, candidates running for Yoho’s district, which includes the counties of Alachua, Clay, Putnam, Bradford, Union and parts of Marion County, shared their stance on police reform with The Alligator.
Despite multiple attempts to reach them, the Republican candidates James St. George, Judson Sapp, Amy Pope Wells, Ryan Chamberlin and David Theus did not reply in time for publication.
Kat Cammack, 32, is the former campaign manager and deputy chief of staff for congressman Ted Yoho and third in terms of campaign contributions among Republican candidates running for Congress. As of June 30, she had raised $461,892.66, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Cammack wrote in an email to The Alligator that “we are currently at a point in history where individuals seek to divide our country rather than bring us together.”
Cammack said that it is clear work needs to be done to address racial issues in the U.S. following the death of George Floyd. She did not specify what this work entails. The candidate added that she stands with law enforcement and the support it gives to the communities every day.
“While I support anyone’s right to peacefully protest, the looting and destroying of private property is unacceptable, illegal and must be dealt with immediately,” Cammack said.
Todd Chase, 53, served for six years as a Gainesville City commissioner. With $313,920.71, he is fourth in campaign contributions.
Chase wrote in an email to The Alligator that “George Floyd’s death was an unmitigated tragedy, but it’s not a license for lawlessness.”
Chase said that like any profession, law enforcement isn’t immune to bad actors. He added that “it’s unfair and unproductive to approach the discussion in a manner that assumes all police officers and entire police departments are part of the problem.”
Chase said he thinks defunding the police is a scary concept.
He said that law and order is important in the U.S. Police officers can’t be attacked and disrespected the way they are now, he added. He mentioned that the declared riots and protests in Portland are “outrageous.”
“If it was happening in Gainesville, if we had city blocks of Gainesville shut down, and local businesses being burned and looted, and people's livelihoods being destroyed, I think a lot of these people that are able to go out there and have these little protests they’re doing would feel a lot differently,” Chase said.
Chase said that he appreciates peaceful protests and activists, but that as a member of Congress, he will fully support the police officers and their departments.
“When you call 911, you need help. You want help to come. Period,” Chase said. “And we have to maintain that understanding, that basic function of government and public law enforcement protection.”
Gavin Rollins, 34, is currently in his second term as a Clay county commissioner and is running for Congress for the first time. With $173,922, he is behind Amy Pope Wells in campaign contributions.
Rollins said that similar to bad doctors or nurses, police officers who act incorrectly should be prosecuted and held accountable, but that he does not think that an entire profession should be vilified based on the actions of one person.
“In the case of George Floyd, I think most Americans I would say—everyone I know agrees—that this is a horrific example of police brutality and police over action,” Rollins said.
Still, Rollings said that there are millions of police officers and law enforcement who want the best for their community.
“I think it's important that we don't continue to further divide police versus the community because the police are all among us,” Rollins said. “Any discussion about improving the police department should be focused on specific actions, not general statements.”
To Rollings, specific action includes providing grants to law enforcement to ensure proper training, he said.
Bill Engelbrecht, 54, is running for Congress for the first time. With $68,530 in campaign contributions, he is behind Ryan Chamberlin.
Though Engelbrecht said he considers Floyd’s death a tragedy, he does not believe in defunding the police.
The candidate said he thinks that more transparency from police departments is necessary in understanding exactly how a situation escalates.. Police officers’ body cameras, he said, are important to have a better understanding of events.
Engelbrecht said that Black Lives Matter needs to have elected leadership in order to make legitimate change in congress.
Engelbrecht said he believes in and encourages the right to protest. But, he added, it must be peaceful. Violent protests overshadow and undercut people’s demands for change, he said.
“Just because we have a different opinion does not mean it gives you the right to beat someone up,” he said.
Joe Dallas Millado, 37, former legislative aide for Florida’s 6th District Rep. Cliff Stearns, is running for Congress for the first time. With $15,967.25 in campaign contributions, he is the lowest-funded Republican candidate in the race.
Millado said he thinks nobody should support police brutality, and said that racism, sexism and other ‘isms’ stem from fear.
“Fear of something you don't know; fear of color; fear of new ideas; fear of change; fear of something uncertain,” he said.
The problem of racism can’t be solved with a bill, but can be with time and a decision to implement change, Millado added.
That change includes proper education, he said.
“I am totally opposed for taking down statues of any kind,” Millado said. “If there are blemishes in our history, leave them up there. We don't solve anything by pretending like it didn't happen.”
Philip Dodds, 46, is running for election again after running as an Independent in the 2012 general election. He has the most campaign contributions of the Democrats, with $21,278.17.
Dodds said that many U.S. institutions, including the police, need improvement.
“Every organization, every team, every university should be working constantly to improve,” Dodds said. “And I would call on the police departments around the country to examine themselves and to examine when they use violence.”
Dodds said he would like to work on police reform so that the institution can live up to the people’s ideal of protection and community service rather than to use violence against protesters. He did not specify how he intends to work on police reform.
Adam Christensen, 26, is the youngest candidate running for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District and the only one to endorse redistributing funds away from the police. He added later that he does not support defunding the police, but instead "reinvesting in our community."
With $20,012.13 in campaign contributions as of June 30, he is behind Dodds.
Christensen said he thinks it is necessary to fundamentally reshape the way people think about policing used as punishment.
Christensen said that police should be defunded in order to better fund other social services like affordable housing, public education and healthcare services. He also said money should be used for properly training officers.
“I see a lot of cities that just want to paint a mural and call it a day, or they want to change the name of a street and call it a day. And that doesn't fix a thing,” Christensen said.
The candidate recounted a time when he was arrested while coaching a high school soccer game in Polk county. Two police officers arrested him after a man called to report that he was trespassing on the soccer field, according to the police report. The report also said Christensen resisted arrest without instigating violence and refused to leave the field.
Christensen said that he was on the property legally. On their way out, he said, officers threw him against a chain link fence, punched him in the groin and threw him to the ground. The report said Christensen grabbed the fence and had to be redirected to the ground for arrest.
Christensen said he could not sue the officers due to qualified immunity, which is a doctrine that protects officials from lawsuits charging the official with violating the rights of the person bringing the case forward.
“They did that to me in front of 200 people. I cannot imagine what they are doing to other people when there are no witnesses,” Christensen said.
Tom Wells, 69, is running for a seat in Congress for the third time since 2016. The first time, he ran as an Independent. Wells has $13,044.36 in campaign contributions.
Paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr., Wells said that we will learn to live together as brothers or we will die together as fools. For Wells, people should live and work together to build a solid foundation of social, economic and racial justice.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is a microcosm of all the problems we have,” Wells said.
Wells said that any police-involved injury, assault or death should be a federal crime.
By doing so and having a responsible federal government, justice will be achieved in all the states, he added.
“It would be much desirable for the states to do that themselves, but I'm not inclined to wait for 25 states to remove genuine Stand-Your-Ground laws,” Wells said. “I hope they will come around to the point that we can again trust them to value human life.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Adam Christensen does not endorse defunding the police. The Alligator originally reported otherwise.