A Florida nonprofit organization that set up shop in Alachua County in 2016 is encouraging witnesses to violence to take action.
Seeking to improve on the tips and training offered in many self-defense and violence-prevention seminars, Green Dot GNV aims to take a different approach on how witnesses to violence should approach the situation.
They should, Green Dot GNV Program Coordinator Juliun Kinsey said, involve themselves directly by interacting with those fighting.
“Our strategy is to communicate a very clear message: one, that violence is not OK, and two, everyone is expected to do their part,” he said.
The goal of the group — part of the statewide Green Dot violence-prevention program — is to replace the “red dots” on a map, which represent acts of violence, with “green dots,” which represent positive responses to those acts of violence.
The organization gave its latest violence-prevention training to about 20 people on Monday, and it has other ones scheduled for March 15, 28 and 29 at locations not yet determined. Trainees aren’t charged to attend or RSVP but should confirm their attendance through the listed Facebook event, which will also reveal the location.
Since launching in July 2016, Green Dot GNV has held about a dozen training sessions with residents and organizations across Alachua County.
The training consists of games and interactive, real-life scenarios in which attendees discuss whether it is appropriate to intervene in violent situations.
Violence isn’t just physical fighting, the organization says. It could also be situations like a parent being rough with her or his child, or verbal threats between two people.
“We believe that this is a critical health issue,” Kinsey said, “and once we begin to decrease violent activity in these communities, we’ll see a rise in a number of other beneficial factors such as a better quality of life, higher educational attainment and socioeconomic statuses within the neighborhoods.”
Green Dot GNV says the four options bystanders to violence have are: directly involving themselves in the situation, like by approaching those fighting and offering assistance; distracting those fighting by talking about a different subject; delegating help by telling someone else, like police or anyone else nearby; and delaying, which refers to putting off the violence until help arrives.
Gainesville Police Department spokesman Matthew Goeckel said the department doesn’t necessarily support nor disagree with Green Dot GNV’s stance on bystanders getting involved in violent situations.
“I think that a bystander should act in the manner they feel most comfortable,” he wrote in an email to WUFT News. “We would never ask a bystander to put themselves in harm’s way. If anything, we would encourage them to be a good witness, call for help, etc.”
If bystanders feel they have the proper training and experience to act, he added, “that is on them to decide.”
University of Florida student Edgar Whelan, 21, attended Monday’s training to assist with his work in the Gainesville-based Minority AIDS Program, as well as to benefit himself as a college student.
The Minority AIDS Program is aimed at reaching Gainesville populations most at risk for HIV and AIDS, primarily in black and LGBTQ communities, Whelan said.
There, violence and substance abuse tend to go hand in hand, which is why Green Dot GNV’s type of violence-prevention training is so important to those communities, he said.
“I realized that there are some situations that I’ve been involved in … where I may have been a bystander,” Whelan said. “I’ve always been more of a ‘that’s not my problem’ kind of person, but Juliun [Kinsey] made me understand that even when it seems hard to get involved, you still should.”
Green Dot GNV is associated with 14 community partners, which also aim to reduce violence in Gainesville. They include Alachua County Victims Services and the SWAG Family Resource Center.
“This is a cultural issue,” Kinsey said, “and whenever domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse is reported, it’s just another news story. But it should be something that outrages each and every one of us.”