Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Tampa town hall starts a discussion on black-on-black crime

TAMPA — They came from many fields — education, politics, the church, philanthropy, self-help, law enforcement and families who lost sons to murder — and many shared a handful of insights on black-on-black crime.

A lot of groups are working on the problem, but there's no one answer, no easy answer and no instant one, either.

"We're going to have to work together," Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said during a two-hour town hall meeting Thursday night at Middleton High School. "Government can't do it by itself. These private groups can't do it by themselves."

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, panelists and a crowd of nearly 200 touched on many potential strategies: Mentoring. Working with teens on anger management and mental illnesses now merely treated with drugs like Ritalin. Fighting attitudes that treat anyone who talks to police as a snitch. Reducing out-of-school suspensions. Seeking business support for cash-strapped social programs. Reducing welfare that one speaker said destroys families and undermines fathers.

And several said the conversation not only needs to continue, but be broadened.

"What are we doing or what can we do to make this issue a true community issue?" asked Jay McNair, a student intervention specialist at Young Middle School. "It's a black community issue, but we can only do so much."

And it is an issue the African-American community has long cared about, said Keith Berry, who teaches history at Hillsborough Community College (but, he noted, was speaking only for himself). Berry described himself not as an angry black man but an "annoyed black man."

"I'm annoyed because a lot of times people are trying to tell me that black folks aren't concerned about black-on-black crime," he said. "We are concerned about that."

Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick wants to see more.

Reddick said he was moved to organize Thursday's meeting after a deadly July 14 robbery of a Family Dollar store in east Tampa. When store manager Horsley Shorter Jr., a retired Army veteran, rushed out to help a co-worker during the holdup, he was shot dead. Police say both victim and suspect, 23-year-old Demetrius L. Parks, were black.

The robbery took place the same weekend that a jury in Sanford acquitted neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.

At the City Council meeting following both incidents, Reddick said he understood the outrage that followed the Zimmerman verdict, but he said people should be just as outraged by crimes like Shorter's murder.

So far in 2013, Tampa police say they've investigated 15 homicides. Eleven victims were black. In eight of those cases, the suspects were black, too.

Nine of those killings took place in Tampa police District III, which includes east Tampa.

But police Maj. Diane Hobley-Burney, the District III commander, told the crowd that too often too few residents seem to care about the victims when officers try to solve a murder.

Once, when residents thought that an officer had shot someone, everyone was upset. But after they learned that wasn't the case, they brought out chairs to watch what amounted to a sideshow.

"That's what you can do: change that," Hobley-Burney said.

"We're not going to stop here," Reddick said. "We plan to take what we develop here, the solutions and the suggestions, and have another meeting, and the next one will be in west Tampa."

When that happens, Hillsborough County School Board member Doretha Edgecomb said, "I hope we will have some young people as part of this panel.

"We need to hear their voices," she said. "Next time, let's invite some young people, the best and the brightest, but also some of those who are struggling, so they can tell us what they need."

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