The meeting, which was facilitated by the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, began with statements from city officials and Dream Defenders leaders Gabriel Pendas and Vanessa Baden.
The Dream Defenders, a group of college students, initially came to Sanford Easter weekend during a 40-mile march from Daytona Beach. The group gathered in front of the Sanford Police Department on 13th Street where they blockaded the front door, causing the temporary shut-down of the department April 9.
Pendas said the movement was to initiate change within the department and bring recognition to the Trayvon Martin case.
“We created a little heat, a little friction and now it’s time for the City of Sanford to get down to business,” he said.
However, following the Dream Defenders first meeting with City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. and Acting Chief Darren Scott, Baden said there has been little action.
“There was frustration because even talking to the right people – nothing happened,” she said.
In response to the groups initial meeting, Bonaparte said the city has been working on a plan to help move the city forward and rekindle trust between the community and police department.
The plan, which was presented by Community Relations Liaison Andrew Thomas, consisted of nine points the city staff and commission will consider to facilitate healing in the coming weeks and months.
Among those points, Thomas said the city has requested the Department of Justice to complete a full investigation into the police department, as well as detail any problems or findings they might have.
He also said the city will look into creating several committees to hear complaints and work with the community.
One of those committees would focus on human relations and may even require a staff position to work with city commissioners, the committee and city staff.
Another committee was a “Blue Ribbon Panel” made up of citizens who would look into the hiring process at the department and what changes the residents may want to see take place.
The third committee would consist of an interracial, interfaith alliance to help people look at race relations overall in Sanford and how they can be improved. On top of those, the city said it will continue to conduct regular community meetings in order to make city hall more accessible to the residents.
Additionally, Thomas spoke of looking into anti-violence programs which he admitted, “may cost money.”
Lastly Thomas noted the city will continue to work with the Department of Justice Community Relations Service as well as establish a formal working relationship with the Florida Commission on Human Rights.
Thomas also noted that the plan need fleshing out, and more work will need to be done with the community to move forward.
“It’s [the plan] a skeleton,” he said. “We need to put some meat on it.”
Following the presentation Baden spoke openly about her disappointment with city’s plan and noted several of the points made should have been done a long time ago.
However parts of the plan also seemed oddly familiar to some in the crowd, as the City of Sanford has had several similar committees and actions in year’s past, which went unmentioned during the meeting.
The city currently holds a Citizens Advisory Board meeting each month where citizens speak with the chief of police and take complaints from the community about the police department.
Also, before Thomas was employed by the city he conducted several police-community relation meetings and compiled a study on the matter while working as a consultant for the city.
But the new open dialogue, all seemed to agree, is the first step in rebuilding the relationship between the public and city. The Dream Defenders said they will continue discussions with the city until they feel they feel justice has been served.
“We're here for the long term,” said Pendas. “We’re not going anywhere.”