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Protest And Police Reform: A Conversation With Sheriff Mike Chitwood And Community Activist Rell Black

Protesters chant as Orlando police officers in riot gear stand outside OPD headquarters on Sunday  05/31. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Protesters chant as Orlando police officers in riot gear stand outside OPD headquarters on Sunday 05/31. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Nationwide protests over police brutality began in May over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis… and they’ve continued. In recent weeks, protesters have called for justice for Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back by police in Wisconsin, and in Orlando, activists want answers after a 22 year old man - Salaythis Melvin- was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy last month. 

One rallying cry at protests has been to defund police. 

Some law enforcement agencies are making changes to their use of force policies– in some cases requiring officers to step in if they see inappropriate use of force.

But what does ‘defund the police’ actually mean? Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Rell Black (Dyrell Johnson), activist and founder of the Community Healing project in Daytona Beach, join host Matthew Peddie for a conversation about protest and police reform that we first aired in June.

Black said the defunding message is being misinterpreted.

“It’s not saying dismantle the police. It’s not saying close police stations, it’s not saying take police stations out of cities. What it’s saying is for cities like New York City, that have a $6 billion annual budget, you know, it’s saying maybe we should reallocate some of those funds to some of the programs that are going on in the community and to some of those disenfranchised communities that may need those funds.”

Black said investing more in communities can help bring down crime.

“I know that my neighborhood needs help. We need better social services for mental health. We need, you know, food and grocery options,” he said.

“I definitely would love if some of those funds got reallocated.”

Sheriff Chitwood said protests in Volusia County have been peaceful and attended by  a cross section of society.

He said what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis was “an atrocity and an affront to everything that a person pins a badge on their chest for," still, he doesn’t agree with calls to defund the police.

“I think it’s ludicrous. I think that the people that are screaming to defund the police are playing to a political ideology and throwing out red meat to them,” he said.

Chitwood said the first things to get cut if there are cuts to funding would be training and technology.

“A lot of the things that we handle: mental illness, homelessness, school safety issues, we handle those issues because the federal government and the state government and county government and city government said: ‘We’re not dealing with this. We’re going to turn it over to the cops.’ And that’s why we’re in the position that we’re in now.”

This interview first aired on Intersection June 11th, 2020.

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