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Monday night was a chance for Sarasota Police and the people who live there to speak openly and honestly. The NAACP and the city department held a community conversation to hash out the tensions dividing them and figure out what can bring them together.
One thing was clear. There was a lot of frustration in the room. If there wasn't a time limit on the meeting, it could've gone on all night.
The meeting began on a very somber note. A man suffered a medical emergency. Sarasota Police officers performed CPR until paramedics arrived. The crowd applauded the officers for very likely saving that man's life.
With that in mind, the meeting went on. Police Chief Bernadette Dipino had one microphone.
The citizens had the other.
It was a time for both sides to air their grievances, their fears, to ask questions while trying to find a common ground.
Some spoke about their own negative run-ins with police that left them frustrated. "The two times I was arrested was because they didn't know that law and I did and they didn't like that," one man said.
Others expressed fear over being shot due to their skin color. "Do you do anything in your training to find out how many of your policemen, especially your white policemen, are afraid of black men?" asked Janet Morgan.
The catalyst for this meeting was the police shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. It's the kind of thing no one wants to happen here.
"There's a difference between being defiant and wanting to know why you being pulled over and wanting to know why you are in the situation you are," said Kate White.
The police have their own set of concerns. A group of them attended the meeting in uniform, listening to the discussion.
"If somebody immediately starts yelling at me and cursing at me as soon as I walk up to the car, my attention is immediately going to be raised as, why are they yelling at me? I don't even know this person," said Chief Bernadette DiPino.
Dipino stressed that officers go through psychological tests before being hired, as well extensive training on bias based policing. She said every time an officer points a weapon or pulls a trigger, she reviews the case. Every time an officer writes a warning or ticket, it's tracked.
"Accountability is really important to me," DiPino said. "Transparency is really important to me and you are all really important to me."
If people think specific changes need to be made, DiPino invited everyone to join civilian oversight boards and discussions to have a hand in that. She also encouraged them to join the police force.
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