A pool party peace overture
Published: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 10:42 p.m.
The splashing and the shouting and the laughing at Northeast Pool on Saturday were the sounds of kids having fun and the sounds of something much more significant.
"Operation Respect Yourself" Event at Northeast Pool
Sponsored by the Gainesville Police Dept. and the Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs Dept.Swimmers
Winning team, 8-12-year-old division
- Katelynn Harrison, age 8
- Shakana Crossley, age 11
- Shytavia Scott, age 11
- Wilniria Perkins, age 8
Individual winners, 13-15-year-old division
- Vince Carter, age 14 1st Place
- Jeremy Chism, age 14 2nd Place
- Jermaine Chism, age 14 3rd Place
- Charles Bouie, age 13 4th Place
- Troy Moorehead, age 15 5th Place
Individual winners, 16-19-year-old division
- Isaac Joseph, age 17 1st Place
- Anthony Brown, age 16 2nd Place
- Lyndon Boykins, age 16 3rd Place
- Zhaibri Jeffries, age 16 4th Place
- Caitlyn Rittenhouse, age 13 5th Place
Winning team in the 8-12-year-old division received a $100 cash prize
Top four finishers in the 13-15 and 16-19-year-old divisions split a $100 cash prize
Swim relay race winners in the Challenge to Beat GPD Officers
- Caitlyn Rittenhouse
- Lyndon Boykins
- Isaac Joseph
- Anthony Brown
- Tom Sander
- Alice Anne Sander
- Linda Weseman
- Jay Brown
- Kelvin Walker, Gainesville Police Department
- Sheldon McKinzie, Gainesville Police Department
- Lonnie Scott, Gainesville Police Department
- Scherwin Henry, Gainesville city commissioner
The first-place team won a $100 cash prize for beating GPD
"It's more than just fun. It's preservation of life," said Tony Jones, retired Gainesville Police Department captain and Reichert House Youth Academy founder. "We're trying to work to preserve the peace. We don't want to lose a child to violence this summer."
Free admission to the pool, hotdogs, hamburgers and swim races with cash prices were all draws for "Operation Respect Yourself," a joint project by police and the city's Division of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. The operation was planned to reduce tensions between children from several neighborhoods on the east side of Gainesville following a fight outside the pool a couple of weeks ago.
On May 17, a fight broke out among 40 or so people, mostly teens between the ages of 14 and 18, near the pool. One teen was hit in the head with a brick. Several of those involved armed themselves with sticks and rocks. Three people were arrested.
"That situation is why we are trying to pull the neighborhoods together," Jones said.
Operation Respect Yourself is "the first event of a long-haul strategy," Jones said. "A one-time shot would not solve problems with the youth. We're trying to work to preserve the peace and this is a first step."
In addition to the police and city employees, Saturday's fun also got a boost from volunteers like Michael Wood. The 22-year-old University of Florida student and several of his brothers from the Zeta Kappa chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity said they were spending the day at the pool in part to be role models to young black teens.
"We're here for the kids," said Wood.
Some of the youngsters who spent the day at the pool, like 9-year-old Catherine Thomas, said they didn't know why so many grown-ups were hanging around on Saturday, but that they liked being able to go to the pool for free and to get lunch, too.
"This is a fun place to go," Thomas said. "I have friends here."
Jermaine Chism, 14, whose brother taught him to swim, was drawn to Saturday's event by the competition. Jermaine placed third in the 13-15-year-old division. He plans to make several more trips to the pool over the summer.
"This is somewhere to go where you can see your friends in the summer," Jermaine said.
Police Capt. Lonnie Scott, who oversees the police department zone where the fight occurred, said holding the fun day at the pool was one way to "begin to get ahead of the curve."
"Right now it is geographic areas - neighborhoods - that are fighting, and we know there are some gang members involved in the groups," Scott said. "Gangs are in the embryonic stage in Gainesville and we are trying to get ahead of the game in dealing with them instead of having to be in a reactive posture."
Jones, Scott and others said one goal is to get youngsters to see police as more than just enforcers, but also as people who want to keep them and their neighborhoods safe.
To further that goal, police formed a swimming relay team that included Scott, officers Kelvin Walker and Sheldon McKinzie, as well as city commissioner Scherwin Henry.
Police offered $100 in cash to the winning team of the relay races and saw their own team place third.
Henry said Saturday's activities reminded him of times spent at the old Lincoln Pool when he was a youngster.
"This is very similar to what we did growing up, but our swim meets would be larger than just neighborhoods," Henry said. "We had teams coming from all around the state. What's happening here today is breaking down the barriers between our young residents and police. It's a chance to see police in something other than an authoritarian role."
Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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