Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Hiding Lady Justice, fencing a city

The state of political discourse in America has come to this:

Lady Justice, hidden away in a box, for the duration of the Republican National Convention.

She is a statue that greets anyone with business at the Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa, and, like politics itself, the subject of much conversation.

She stands 10 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds. She is coppery green with a spill of golden ringlets and a clingy toga, her slender arms outstretched in a quest for the balance that is justice — or, she's directing traffic, as courthouse comedians like to say. Anyway, she is hard to miss.

Except now, when the impending convention has put Lady Justice in the witness protection program.

I went to the courthouse this week to find a giant box had been built around her, shrouding her tacky splendor behind plywood and lidding her up tight so no one can lob anything scary in there.

And I am dismayed, even if I get it: This is where we are in the world right now.

Because what a symbolic target she would make for the extremists we have been told are on their way to disrupt the convention, the ones who do not see much justice in the current state of things and are very angry about it. The ones who would attack her with paint or worse.

Court Administrator Mike Bridenback agrees when I call.

"A shame," he says. "But it is the world we live in today." This week in particular.

It is disconcerting how my downtown has been transformed by tall, black, heavy metal fences, things out of a prison movie, there to protect Important Buildings that have windows whited-out to reinforce them should someone aim a brick.

"They fenced off my park," Pam Iorio, who was mayor back when Tampa won the RNC, told me this week when she was downtown.

She meant Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, transformed during her tenure into exactly the kind of city space Tampa badly needed, with fountains for kids to run in, a great sloping lawn and a view of the river. Our park will get good use during the RNC, but how jarring to see all that green blocked off by fences and barriers.

Downtown emptied Friday of many of its workers. People called out that they would see each other next week in far-flung satellite offices in Brandon or Plant City. It had the distinct feel of turning over the keys.

I meet Jonathan Kaplan, who works at the court clerk's office and is out with his camera capturing his city, the fences, the Box of Justice. "I'm taking pictures for my friends in California — they don't believe me," he says.

Didn't somebody say something about a party?

Before I start the morose humming of Bruce Spring­steen's My City of Ruins, I cruise over to Ybor City. Old brick and wrought iron are draped in patriotic bunting. Already it is coming alive with people dangling credentials from their necks.

I guess I hope these out-of-towners see our old churches and new restaurants, our mansions and our homeless, that they take a sweeping ride along the water down Bayshore Boulevard, preferably before a storm wipes away all that newly planted greenery.

I guess I hope they can see beyond those ugly fences to the city we are.

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