By Susan Hardee Steger
June 15, 2020
On Saturday, June 13, hundreds of peaceful activists gathered at Central Park in Fernandina Beach to hold a rally against racism organized by the Racial Equality Coalition (REC). The REC came into being 12 days ago when its founder, Malinah Borrero, brought the “youth-led group”together, all under 30 years of age. They reached out to members of the community and senior advisers for support.
Fernandina Beach Police Chief Jim Hurley spoke at the rally and stressed the need for change in our county. Opening remarks were presented by Malinah Borrero, Wendall McGee, who motivated the crowd, and Jeanette Baker, who encouraged those who want change to vote. Other speakers included DeWanda Pickney, Samantha Bartley, Connnor Fasel, and Pastor Daniels of the AME Church. We thank Chief Hurley for allowing us to print his remarks, and we thank Theresa Hamilton, Christy LeLait, and DeWanda Pickney for the photos.
Fernandina Beach Rally against Racism – Central Park, FB, FL May 13, 2020
Remarks by Fernandina Beach Police Chief James T. Hurley
Thank you all for being here and for exercising your right to peacefully protest. I admire your passion and I respect your enthusiasm and diversity!
It is my prayer that this rally will be an important part of needed change in our country. Let’s start by addressing Racism right here in FB!
I want you to know that I am here to listen to what each of you have to say, and I will follow up with you! I promise that in the days ahead I will work diligently to see that change does happen!
I know that change requires a great deal of analysis and discussion, but it is not insurmountable. This is not a problem without a solution! While I like your passion, I caution you not to succumb to passion and anger. Let each of us remember to seek first to understand, then to be understood. (Covey)
Like you, I am tired of seeing viral images of police confrontations, especially when they depict police wrongdoing. I don’t like to be put in that group. I don’t want my officers painted with a broad brush! Especially when the wrongdoing is occurring 2000 miles away, and the offending officer is clearly violating his oath and tarnishing the badge that I choose to honor.
Like you, I have many questions:
Why did the officer in MN behave the way he did? I know of no police department that teaches control tactics like those we witnessed. That’s why I spoke out about it as soon as I watched the video.
Why do many police agencies not have in-car and body-worn cameras [BWC]. We employ both, in-car cameras for more than twenty years, and more recently rolling out BWC’s in January 2017!
Why do some police departments still allow Choke Holds as a proper response to resistance? I suggest we mandate that all police departments remove choke holds from their policy. We did that more than 20 years ago. We teach De-escalation tactics, to include walking away. Yes, we are the police; we are in the confrontation business. But, we don’t have to win every confrontation.
Why did the officers on the scene fail to actively monitor Mr. Floyd’s medical situation? I suggest we mandate that all police departments require systematic monitoring of those in custody to quickly identify those in medical distress. Again, we have that language in our policy and we train for just such circumstances.
Why did the three other officers elect not to intervene when bystanders clearly recognized criminal behavior and believed that Mr. Floyd’s life was in danger? Isn’t it time that we mandate that all police departments require, by policy and training, that all officers must intervene and must report excessive use of force. Again, our agency has this policy.
If George Floyd was suffering a fentanyl-induced heart attack which helped lead to his unconsciousness, as was reported by the medical examiner, why wasn’t Narcan used. Our officers are equipped with Narcan and have successfully revived unconscious overdose victims in the past, including just last week.
Law enforcement accreditation is the process that most clearly promotes changes in organizational culture by defining, in clear terms, those best practices that should be followed, and those that should not, and by articulating what is and is not acceptable to the agency leadership and the community. Perhaps we might mandate that all police departments be accredited by 2025 or be dissolved. Our agency has been accredited since 2004.
Another issue we hear far too often is that it must be easier for Police Chiefs and Sheriffs to fire bad cops! There is some truth to this argument, which could be fixed in part by reforming the arbitration system that frequently returns fired police officers to the department that terminated them. I also recommend that all police departments increase their probationary period to 18 months after graduation from the police academy to give the agency more time to determine if the officer is a good fit for the job.
We obviously need police reform in this country, but we also need community reform. This has to be the next level of discussion. And we must work on a national strategy to reduce criminal violence and improve systemic social issues that lead to poverty and racism.
I look forward to discussing these issues in detail in the days and weeks ahead. Meanwhile, live your life like your life matters!