‘Handcuffs or bodybags’: Tampa area black leaders demand massive reform to extinguish institutional racism
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Fire fist
Black leaders demand transparency, oversight and police reform.

The Hillsborough County NAACP and the Greater Tampa Bay chapter of the ACLU are calling on the city of Tampa and the Tampa Police Department to reform policies to break down systemic racism they claim is still rampant in the city.

Hillsborough NAACP president Yvette Lewis, speaking during a press conference in front of the downtown municipal building where Tampa Mayor Jane Castor works, made a number of demands including calling for enhancing the city’s citizen review board and requiring businesses receiving public assistance to hire workers from certain zip codes, those in low-income, predominately minority communities.

She also called for police body cameras, which the city is implementing, and cameras on police vehicles as well as reformed policies to end police brutality and excessive force.

The local NAACP is also asking for a registry of police officers accused of abuse and excessive force and a requirement that police officers reside within the communities they serve, a move meant to further community policing standards.

“We insist that all elected officials take all necessary actions to protect communities,” Lewis said, arguing the city “has had their foot o our neighborhood for many years and we cannot breathe.”

In a more fiery speech, longtime civil rights activist Connie Burton made an impassioned plea for massive government overhauls.

“Anytime the African people think they’re getting some relief … we end back up at this same place,” Burton said, harkening back to the days of Jim Crow and other civil rights battles through the centuries.

“There’s a reason. We’ve got deep, deep, deep, unrecognizable by some but far too visible by others, disparity. “We believe this city government is the hot bed that gives life to all of these other injustices that our people deal with on a daily basis.”

She compared the centuries-long fight for racial equality to a permanent COVID-19 “that has existed since 1619.”

Burton drew on heartbreaking references to poor school performance in low-income communities and the school to prison pipeline, both of which are frequent political debates.

“They’re not talking about white children,” Burton said.

Burton didn’t mince words.

“With the police in charge there’s only two ways things are resolved, handcuffs or bodybags,” she said. “No longer should you think we going to be peaceful … while you continue to bring pain on our African community.”

Burton also addressed the emerging debate over defunding police departments, a phrase that misrepresents the ultimate goal, which isn’t to completely eradicate police, but to reallocate massive police budgets, which are typically a city’s biggest expense, to community services that could reduce police burden and emphasize changes that promote reform rather than incarceration.

In Tampa’s case, Burton said that means putting 60% of the city’s police budget into things like social work, housing and education.

She also drew a difficult political line, noting that current criticism toward Tampa government is directed at an elected body in which every member of City Council and the Mayor are Democrats.

“We say no longer count on our votes,” Burton said.

“Now our children understand that it is not their fault. ow mothers that want to have careers and opportunities understand that it is not their fault, but it has been the policymakers that have been so determined to keep business as usual that would give blindly to a false superiority to other people’s lives.”

Nothing was off the table. She blasted gentrification and policies that exploit black workers to the betterment of the white elite, words that drew passionate cheers from supporters, but that likely will be seen less favorably among those on the other end of the charge.

Asked about calls for enhancing the city’s citizen review board, a group established to provide citizen oversight of police complaints, Lewis argued the group lacks authority and is only able to review cases after official investigations. She said, however, that Police Chief Brian Dugan has told her he’s willing to have a conversation.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


  • Glenn Reihing

    June 10, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    A Suggestion on How to Move Forward…

    Former Pres. Barack Obama posted an essay on Medium entitled “How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change.” In it, he made the remark:

    “But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”

    To me, electing people to reform the system has not worked. We have tried that and elected all sorts of people from different races, women, you name it, only to see no change even though there have been some good police leaders. But I have dusted off an old idea that I think might work if we updated it.

    A long time ago, communities attempted to deal with the issue of police brutality with the formation of a “Citizen Committee”. Their purpose was to handle citizen’s complaints against police. Over the years they slowly disbanded or police unions citing privacy laws took the teeth out of these committees and they gradually went away. I say we bring them back with a few provisions.

    First, the committee is made up of nine members. We make these members elected county officials that are limited to two, two-year terms. This allows all members from the community a chance to participate.

    The only non-electable members on the committee will be a member from the County Sheriff to represent all law enforcement interests in that county and the Pinellas County Prosecutors Office to provide legal opinions. These members will be selected by the head of the Department but will be rotated out every four years.

    The committee only allows only one member from law enforcement to be on the committee even though there are many entities for reasons that will be made clear.

    The complaint is investigated, and witnesses (including the officer(s) involved) are called in front of the committee. This portion of the process is kept private for the protection of all involved.

    Next, the investigation and deliberations of the complaint is considered private. This allows all members of the committee a chance to be frank about their impressions of the complaint without the pressure of having to satisfy a base of support.

    The committee then draws up its findings and recommendations. It votes on that portion of work and sends it to both the Mayor or County Chair and the Chief of the police entity involved. It also sends the voting record (numbers only, so as not to identify who voted for what).

    This is why there is only one representative from law enforcement. Having more than one member of law enforcement has the potential to “game” the system since the final recommendation(s) are voted on.

    One of those entities then returns a letter to the committee describing their final actions on the outcome of the complaint which closes the loop.

    The complaint, findings of the committee, the committee’s recommendations, and entities responses are all made public record thirty days after final action to provide transparency and to show citizens that the process is working. It also allows the citizens the ability to offer suggestions on how to improve the process.

  • Reverse Racism Rules America

    June 10, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    The only systemic racism in America is against WHITE PEOPLE! The privileged race in America has been black people for more than 40 years. I can back it up with facts and stats!

  • Ali

    June 10, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    Back it up then. It’s BS you’re claiming you can back up!

    • Ali Knows Nothing

      June 10, 2020 at 11:20 pm

      Prove me wrong

Comments are closed.


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