Many politicians like to say they are leaders, but most of the time it takes a crisis to know for sure.
After the events of last week in Tampa, write this down in ink: Mayor Jane Castor is a leader.
First, she and Police Chief Brian Dugan walked with peaceful protestors Saturday afternoon to express outrage over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It’s one thing to express support with words. It’s another to show it with action.
When the protest march later turned into a full-blown riot Saturday night, though, Castor struck exactly the right tone to a city looking for answers.
“I’m a lifelong resident of this wonderful city. Over half of my 60 years were spent serving our citizens as a police officer (and as Chief),” she said at a news conference on Sunday.
“I saw a lot during those 31 years, but I have never seen anything like last night.”
That’s saying something. Tampa has had its share of race-related violence over the years, but she’s right. I’ve lived in Tampa for nearly 50 years and this tops anything I’ve seen.
Police endured a fusillade of fireworks, rocks, and bottles.
Looters torched five buildings and damaged or looted about 40 others. Police, who remarkably restrained under the circumstances, arrested 41 people.
Vandals destroyed the Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant. A Go Fund Me page raised more than $44,000 by early Monday afternoon as local people opened their hearts and wallets.
“This business is their livelihood to support a multi-generational family,” the GoFundMe states. “They did not deserve this setback. They are so kind, welcoming, and inclusive to everyone.”
Yeah, it was that bad.
“What I saw (Saturday) night was not a call for voices to be heard, ideas to effect change, or ways to shine a light on inequality. What I saw was shameful (and) heartbreaking. And what I saw did not reflect of our community and the values that we share,” Castor said.
“One of the many things that I love about Tampa is the way we come together when there is a problem to be solved or an issue addressed. Physical violence and looting are not the answer, they are nothing more than criminal behavior. Behavior that solves nothing.”
The tone Castor struck was at least important as what she said. It was no-nonsense but not strident. She was compassionate but in control.
Maybe her years on the street as an officer prepared her to face a volatile scene. Leading the Tampa Police Department as Chief taught her how to take charge.
All I know is, amid the huffing and puffing at this time by so many others around the country, Tampa’s Mayor was pitch-perfect.
She was empathetic for those – both black and white – who say the targeting of African-Americans has to stop. It’s fair to say that as a gay person who led a sprawling police department, she probably knows something about discrimination.
On Sunday, she recalled talking with a large number of young people looking for ways to effect positive change.
“This lifted my heart more than last night’s destruction saddened it.”
But Castor also knows that destruction can’t be tolerated. Those who lost jobs and their businesses during Saturday’s rampage had nothing to do with the travesty in Minneapolis.
There were protests Sunday night as well and police responded with tear gas, but it was nothing like the day before. Maybe that’s because Castor balanced support for a cause and protection for her city.
That might have helped Tampa turn the corner from one of the worst nights in its history. That’s what a leader does.