Alliance forum informs citizens


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:49 a.m.
In a community forum Tuesday night, east Gainesville residents were informed about how to properly handle situations in which they believe they were discriminated against when denied the use of public accommodations.
The forum, held at Duval Elementary School, was sponsored by the Alachua County Ministerial Alliance, whose goal was to bring black residents and primarily convenience store owners in east Gainesville together to discuss what some residents view as discriminatory practices by the store owners.
The Rev. Milford Griner, outreach coordinator of the Ministerial Alliance, said the forum was prompted because he wanted residents and store owners to talk about perceived problems.
In early May, Arnold and Gloria Mitchell contacted the media, saying they had been denied use of a restroom at an east Gainesville gas station/convenience store. They said that as they were leaving the store they saw a white person being allowed to use the restroom.
Griner contacted the Mitchells to organize a protest of the business, which was held on May 5, and though the store's owner apologized to the Mitchells, they decided to pursue the matter with the city of Gainesville Equal Opportunity Office (EOO).
The Tuesday night forum included representatives from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, the Gainesville Police Department, the city's EOO, Three Rivers Legal Services Inc., the city attorney's office and the African-American Accountability Alliance. There were about two dozen citizens in attendance as well.
Jimmie Williams, director of the city's EOO, told residents that businesses can deny access to public accommodations, but they can't do it based on race, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, etc. Williams went on to explain the role his office plays in assisting people who think they have been discriminated against and want to take action.
"Our role is that we are a neutral third party that basically gathers information," Williams said.
GPD Capt. Willie Washington told audience members that when inside a business, if they believe they have been discriminated against, to not turn a civil matter into a criminal matter.
"We can act as a gateway to give information to the EOO," said Washington. "Our role is very limited. The important thing is to not lose your temper and create a disturbance. Our role is to get there and keep the peace, and to quiet any disturbance."
Griner said he was pleased with the forum even though none of the 10 to 15 store owners he invited showed up.
"I think it went very well," said Griner. "I was pleased with the turnout, but wish we could have had more. I'm disappointed that none of the store owners were here, but I'm not upset."
Later, one store owner in northeast Gainesville said he didn't attend because he didn't feel comfortable about the forum.
"I try to stay away from confrontational situations," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Griner told the audience that efforts will continue to make store owners aware of the feelings some black residents have toward how they are treated.
"If need be, we will have more protests and boycotts," said Griner.

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