Goddsville Dream Defenders March, Report from the Streets
by James Thompson
On June 13, about 2,000 people occupied state highways and local roads under citizen guard for three hours on a Goddsville (Gainesville Chapter of Dream Defenders) Dream Defenders march against police brutality and white power.
Occupied areas included a UF stadium, the University and 13th Street intersection, a police station intersection, and outside the County courthouse. Stops at Seminary Lane, Lynch Park, and Porters Community connected Black activists, white allies, and the public to a deep history of struggle.
We marched through stolen lands, by gentrified luxury student high-rises built on sweated labor, and into public institutions forged from slavery. We witnessed the locations of many crimes.
The basketball stadium at UF where the march began was the scene of the first crime. Stephen O’Connell, the building’s namesake, was Florida’s pro-segregation Chief Justice during the Black-led Civil Rights Movement.
O’Connell was a UF president as well, and his legacy continues with low minority and working poor enrollment. UF’s Board of Trustees is now run by right-wing Florida real estate developer and Rick Scott appointee Morteza Hosseini. UF is the area’s largest institutional employer of service workers, educators, and professional staff at starvation wages.
Every person at the stadium raised their fist and pledged in unison not to hug, kneel with, speak to, or otherwise allow the police to co-opt the march and its public relations. In its most solemn moment, the march later occupied the intersection of University and 13th Street to mourn in silence and power for nine minutes. This is how long it took four cops to publicly lynch George Floyd by strangulation. At each minute, Black activists repeated Mr. Floyd’s bloodcurdling pleas to his deceased Mother, to anyone, to let him breathe.
The procession continued through Gainesville neighborhoods built by Black families after Reconstruction a century and a half ago, along the NW 5th and 7th Ave corridors. Organizer Danielle Chanzes educated us about the crime of gentrification.
In the last two decades, hundreds of people in this community were forced out by local government decisions and developers to make way for luxury student housing after being promised new homes that never appeared. We congregated there in the yard of the A.Q. Jones school, formerly the proud all-Black Lincoln High School. That same building where a Black community once thrived against segregation now houses teachers and staff who do the heavy lifting of raising and educating children whom society has failed before they were born.
We then occupied the police station intersection at 6th Street and 8th Avenue, the headquarters for our local war on Black people. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune recently featured a data-driven statewide study citing Gainesville as the premier Florida city for apartheid policing. It cited the “burden shouldered by east Gainesville in GPD’s war on drugs, finding that GPD patrols black neighborhoods in east Gainesville — stopping [Black] college-aged males for minor infractions like jaywalking or biking without lights … while leaving west Gainesville and UF’s [White] campus largely unbothered.” Gainesville is not a precious “woke” little college town on the cusp of change. We are Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and New York City.
The march continued to the County Courthouse, where racist judges like the departed David Glant (nicknamed “Father Time” for inequitable and harsh sentencing) handed out dirty justice to generations of citizens for being poor, mentally ill, addicted, or Black.
On those courthouse steps, activist and mother Jhody Polk noted the fight against this legacy, praising “the jailhouse lawyers practicing law in the dark” to bring justice. She celebrated the streets and the community who prepared her to be incarcerated and who steeled her for the struggle. She reminded us that when her son goes out to play or she walks in public, “I can’t breathe.” Her words remind us of the hard work ahead: “I deserve peace and justice and I’m not waiting for one or the other.”
As the march gathered in its final location, the historically Black community of Porters, the crowd met the sunset with roaring chants of “No Cops, No KKK, No Racist USA.”
A local resident then discussed how common it is for Black men like him to be harassed for simply walking down the street. As a connector between downtown and UF, Porters has been subjected to a high-rise and office style gentrification on a different trajectory than Seminary Lane. Corporations like the Heritage Investment Group (which includes Trimark Realty, a local purveyor of luxury student and multifamily housing) plan to build parking garages and other private amenities which will further increase homeowner property taxes and displace Black residents.
The march’s greatest success was relating the criminal history of local institutions, judges, police, and corporations against Black people and the working class. At each stop activists reminded us that these problems are ongoing.
To be fair, some local leaders have been trying to reform what is broken, like slowly reducing the jail population and pushing deferment programs for petty crimes. Meanwhile, generational historical inequities continue to affect our Black neighbors and other persons of color. There have been few visible receipts for these crimes. On June 13th we saw the receipts, drenched in blood and sweat, written up for property taken, education denied, people in chains, and institutions walled off.
The overall message of the march was loud and clear. The streets have spoken. Reform has failed. The edge of the progressive fence many of us have been sitting on is getting sharper and sharper. It’s time to come down, pick a side, and go marching on the places and to the people we need to change. We will keep walking and speaking and taking the streets until all demands for a just society are met.
James Thompson is a community activist focused on the racial and environmental politics of land use policy. He is currently an appointed member of the Alachua County Charter Review Commission.