LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — On Tuesday, leaders from law enforcement and minority groups around the community came together to express their thoughts on the events going on throughout the country following the death of George Floyd.
“Seeing that, obviously, it really made us kind of get a hole in our stomach,” said Panama City Police Department Chief Scott Ervin, describing the video of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin holding Floyd, by the neck, to the ground with his knee as Floyd calls out for help. The video has sparked outrage, protests and riots across the country.
“As a law enforcement officer and a human being, I am angry and deeply disturbed by the actions of the officer in Minnesota that took the life of George Floyd, a man in his custody,” said Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford.
According to conference organizers, the purpose was to express to the community that local law enforcement does not condone the actions of Chauvin, and minority group leaders do not condone the violence taking place in riots across the country.
Lead Coalition of Bay County Executive Director, Janice Lucas, described Tuesday’s conference as a historic and positive event for the community.
“When our law enforcement said that not only do they denounce the murder of George Floyd, but they respect and will protect our American right to protest, that is moving us to closer towards healing the history of hurt in our community,” she said.
Tony Bostick, the Vice President of the Northwest Florida Minority Business Chamber of Commerce, said the willingness of local law enforcement to speak out against the act publicly and stand up for residents’ first amendment rights to peacefully protest speaks volumes.
“I think this says mountains about the kinds of guys we have leading our agencies here in Bay County,” he said. He added that members of minority communities need to continue to attend public meetings to have their voices heard and create change on a local level.
Lucas and others said it’s just the start of a continuing conversation.
“There’s still much work to do to break down those systems that allow for something like that to happen,” said Lucas. “We have to make sure that no bad apples in our law enforcement could ever carry out something like that here.”
Al McCambry, a community leader involved in several groups in the area, agreed.
“Having a discussion about racism is very difficult,” he said. “People have to be willing to, as my mom used to say, put your feelings in your pocket and figure out it’s still here.”
McCambry said that now, everyone needs to work together to turn the dialogue into action in order to phase out the everyday racism he said he and his community faces daily.
All said that the conversation needs to happen peacefully and that violence and destruction is not condoned by either side.
“Generations are coming behind us and so we have to leave it better than we found it,” said Lucas.