Gators football hosts open dialogue with local law enforcement officials

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 8:06 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Randy Russell was excited.

The young Russell was being dropped off in front of a GameStop with a $100 bill given to him by his mother. He was going to buy a brand new video game. However, his day quickly turned when he stepped up to pay for the game.

“Giving the lady the $100 bill, her first words to me was,'where did you get this from?' I said, ‘this is my money. My mom gave it to me,’" said Russell. “And she said, ‘did you steal this from somebody.’”

Russell recounted the story in a video edited by Gators Football on Twitter - it was to promote awareness to a problem facing many in the country.

“It’s ridiculous that we have to beg people to treat us equal,” said Russell.

The cry for social justice is as loud as ever across the country, and Florida student athletes are right in the trenches - sharing their stories on Twitter and marching down the streets of Gainesville with their message.

Gators football continued the conversation last week by inviting local law enforcement agencies to campus.

“I think it was great, very educational," said Gators head coach Dan Mullen. “In light of where we’re at today, I thought it was really important to hear different sides of things.”

Representatives from the Gainesville Police Department, the University of Florida Police and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office all sat down with Mullen’s team in an open setting.

"They came over and spoke to us and we had conversations that needed to be had,” said Florida running back Malik Davis. “We talked about things that we could do, maybe in the community or just with the team.”

“I think it was a really good idea to get both sides' perspectives spoken and just get a better understanding of everything that’s going on,” said cornerback Marco Wilson.

One of those in attendance was ASO Sgt. Paul Pardue. Pardue is the RED/DMC coordinator for the Youth and Community Resource Unit.

“My job is to make sure our policies exceed the national standards and bring the best practices to our agency. We’ve done that," he explained.

Pardue is in charge of creating, adapting policies on how the department interacts with the community, while also helping educate ASO deputies.

“I personally teach implicit bias training, racial ethic disparity training, adverse childhood experiences trauma training, and those kind of topics," said Pardue. "I also teach all of the new hires. There is not a single new deputy that hits the street without going through our classes.”

Pardue has held several open dialogues at local schools in the area, like the one held at the University of Florida. According to the ASO sergeant, these conversations center around several topics including traffic stops.

“The big concern was how law enforcement approaches citizens and how can citizens approach law enforcement and both feel comfortable," said Pardue. “Everybody knows that there is a lot of room for law enforcement to improve. It’s our job to be responsible stewards of our image, but it’s also way more important for us to listen and listen to our citizens, listen to the students, and listen to the concerns - adapt and change. We can always do better.”

“I think that was a really important activity to do there because a lot of guys don’t really get to talk to police daily or ever,” said Wilson, "so that might have been the first time some guys talked to some cops.”

“It’s a great opportunity to sit down and break through the stereotypes, and the most important part, it’s in a non confrontational matter. Everybody is comfortable," said Pardue.

The initiative started back in 2015 and has already seen success - keeping children out of jail and reducing overall arrests by 64%.

“Our polices and procedures have changed tremendously," stated Pardue. “We empowered our deputies to go back and find creative solutions and use restorative justice practices - instead of arresting a child for child behaviors, it’s a call to their parents, make a deal with a neighbor, rake the yard to right whatever wrong was done.

"A crime did occur so we have to make sure they [the victims] are satisfied with the restoration, but we take opportunity to teach kids and learn from these experience rather than punish them and start that the school to prison pipeline. We have had success over the years.”

Pardue says their conversations with the football players provided a unique opportunity for the department, since several of these athletes are from out of state and bring a different perspective.

“The opportunity we had with the student at the University of Florida was amazing,” he said. “We are looking forward to having longer dialogues and really unpacking all the ideas that we had in this brief dialogue.”

“I felt like we were being heard, and it can be a chance to change thing,” said Wilson. “Because, you know, being on the football team in Gainesville, we have a big voice. So I think we can gain enough respect from those guys to listen to what we have to say, I think we were being heard. I really enjoyed doing that activity there.

“You can’t fix everything that’s going on in the country, but it’s an opportunity to speak to what’s going on with where we’re at right now to make sure the things that have been happening don’t happen here," added the Florida cornerback. "Hopefully people can see that and it can just spread around the country and we can just get things going the right way.”

“Even though we have had some successes, we have a long way to go,” said Pardue. “We have to remember that we are employed by the citizens of Alachua County. We have to do what they expect and if we come in with our own ideas to what neighborhoods need, we are coming off on the wrong foot.”

Young athletes seeking change.

So the next time a young man joyfully approaches a check out counter for a new video game, he isn’t questioned.

“It’s not a fad or a trend," said Russell. "This is something we want to fix and we want to change.”

The message is clear: these student athletes are more than just entertainment.

For more on the ASO unit view the second below video:

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