Radio host and moderator Monica May embarked the evening in a soothing tone.
"Just relax," she assured the crowd at UCF. "Everybody just go ahead and breathe in and let it go."
The call to action was very much in order, as audience members of the "Do All Lives Matter?" panel sat upright, scattered about the Cape Florida Ballroom of the Student Union on Monday night. It was held just a day before the Department of Justice found insufficient evidence to charge George Zimmerman with federal civil rights violations in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, according to USA Today.
Panelists and attendees dissected the controversial topic of police brutality and social justice over the course of the next two hours. Focal points ranged from white privilege in court rulings, to who ought to take the blame for the clearly fractured race relations of national and local law enforcement.
The second in a series of three, the panel was hosted by the UCF Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Department of Legal Studies, in conjunction with other UCF bodies.
Before opening statements, May inquired, "Do all lives really matter?" A young voice rose from the seats answering, "Yes, they really do."
Richard Beary, UCF's Chief of Police, led the panel by conceding that "the entire criminal justice system has not been examined since 1967, well before most of you were born."
Referring to the White House's Dec. 8 press release detailing the creation of a task force on 21st century policing, Beary continued: "The organization I'm part of, the [International Association of Chiefs of Police], we've been asking for a presidential commission for 20 years."
Kareem Jordan, panelist and professor of criminology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, reinforced this by admitting that "we are very good at putting the blame only on law enforcement."
"We need to have a conversation," she added. "It goes both ways."
However, May expressed concern over law enforcement's quick and violent responses.
"We go from zero to octane and that's how situations get out of whack," she said.
Criminal defense attorney and panelist Robert B. Fisher, Jr., who provided much of the debate's comic relief, shook his head at the statement. He did, however, denounce the 2005-enacted stand-your-ground law, adding that he could have been lawfully killed if the legislation was in place when he was younger.
Responding to May's question of why some tend to be suspicious of law enforcement, Jordan added, "There is a racial difference in how people perceive injustice. If you look at slavery, Jim Crowe, and how Hispanics are treated, there's a reason why blacks and Hispanics feel this way."
Jordan also felt that social media was partially at fault for enticing people to become riotous, and in a comparison made to HLN anchor Nancy Grace, misrepresenting the facts.
"Use the media to actually become more knowledgeable," he instructed.
Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill felt that more needed to be done, however.
"We've been talking for a long time. Now it's time to press flesh," she said.
In order to end negative encounters between cops and minorities, Hill suggested we "stop this no-snitch action. From there, we'll come together."
The climax of the night struck when senior legal studies major Allysia Mompoint asked if white privilege exists in law enforcement's dealings with citizens. Hill and Jordan agreed that it does, while Fisher and Beary, the only white panelists, kept their lips sealed.
Junior criminal justice major Carol Queliz made the point that "in everything that we do we continue to encourage education, but now we have police officers only carrying a GED."
Hill staunchly disagreed with further educational requirements for officers, reasoning that it would drive out potential employees from low-income backgrounds.
When pressed on how diverse the police force at UCF is in the same round of questions, Beary responded, "I don't walk around with those numbers, I'm sorry."
May allowed Hill to end the night by urging students to make their voices heard.
"I've been looking at UCF," she said. "You don't turn out. If you truly want the change you desire, you need to vote."
Adam Manno is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.