‘What we want’: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful

Here is what some demonstrators, organizations have to say.
Jabaar Edmond marches with protesters in St. Petersburg Friday, June 5.
Jabaar Edmond marches with protesters in St. Petersburg Friday, June 5. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published June 7, 2020|Updated June 8, 2020

They’re marching through major cities and small towns, lying on their stomachs in the wet streets, chanting, “I can’t breathe!” over sirens and honking cars, braving tear gas and rubber bullets.

Every night, for the past week, thousands of people across the country — and on both sides of Tampa Bay —have been turning out to protest police killing George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25.

People here didn’t know him. But many know someone they say has suffered police brutality or racism. Others are coming out to show solidarity.

Teenagers on skateboards. Lawyers in suits. Poets. Students. Bartenders. Security guards. Grandmothers and toddlers of all colors.

They say they want justice, equality, to be heard — to not be afraid.

So what does that look like? What steps can local officials and law enforcement officers take to make things better? What will make protesters feel like their efforts are a success?

The Tampa Bay Times asked people in the crowds. Talked to leaders and activists. Searched websites, trying to discern different organizations’ demands.

Many platforms overlap: Demilitarize police. End brutality. Hold officers accountable for their actions.

Some requests are simpler: Have picnics in black neighborhoods, where police and residents can meet.

A national group called #8cantwait has outlined a series of suggestions for change — and some of those already have been implemented around Tampa Bay.

Here are other things local protesters want:

Maya Farrell, 21, marched in Tampa last weekend, then helped lead Monday’s protest at the Tampa police station. A model, she says she has been trying to educate herself about what she can do. For the last week, she has been Tweeting ideas to Mayor Jane Castor. “But she never responds.”

Farrell wants:

-- A citizen review board to investigate officers who have more than three strikes on their records.

-- Local officials to re-evaluate all officers “to guarantee the safety of our community.”

-- More minority officers.

-- Body cameras on all police.

-- More publicly funded art installations and murals by black artists. “Especially in low-income parts and along Bayshore. That would make us feel like we had more representation in our city, like we were being seen and included.”

Terron Gland uses a megaphone while leading marchers along Central Avenue during a march Saturday in St. Petersburg.
Terron Gland uses a megaphone while leading marchers along Central Avenue during a march Saturday in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Terron Gland, 31, is a security guard who is organizing St. Petersburg protests, bringing water for the crowds. “I’m out here every day,” he says. “And it’s already accomplishing change. We’re walking through the neighborhoods, along Beach Drive, and all these older Caucasian people are coming out to join us. We just have to keep growing. Things are happening!”

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Gland wants:

-- The City Council to hold meetings on the southside. “At least some committee meetings, so people there can attend, and feel like they’re part of the planning.”

-- More training for police officers in race relations and de-escalation of force.

-- Police substations in black neighborhoods. “Show us you’re not our enemy!”

David Jones, 20, leads a group called Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society. A chemistry major at the University of South Florida in Tampa, he marched near campus last Saturday, and plans to be out there again. “People are mad,” he says. “We’re tired of seeing our community being attacked by cops who are supposed to protect and serve us.”

Jones wants:

-- Tampa to form a Civilian Police Accountability Council to oversee hiring, firing and disciplinary action for police officers.

-- The city to create an “Alliance Against Racial Oppression.”

-- USF to disarm campus police. “Students shouldn’t have to fear them.”

Jalessa Blackshear, 28, brought her 6-year-old daughter to a protest outside St. Petersburg City Hall on Thursday. A student at USF-St. Petersburg, she helped start the group St. Pete Peace Protest. “All this negative energy we’re feeling, we can make something positive,” she says. “We have to pick and choose our battles. Small things mean a lot.”

Blackshear wants:

-- Crosswalks on corners in the southside. “So kids can get to parks and rec centers without risking their lives, so people in wheelchairs can get to the corner store.”

-- A city-subsidized, rent-to-own program where people can move from public housing to owning their homes.

-- Free or subsidized solar panels, “so people can generate their own electricity.”

Carla Bristol, Jabaar Edmond (right) and Herman Lassiter (left) sing together during a protest in St. Petersburg.
Carla Bristol, Jabaar Edmond (right) and Herman Lassiter (left) sing together during a protest in St. Petersburg. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

Jabaar Edmond, 40, has four kids, which is why he marches in St. Petersburg every night. He’s vice president of the Child’s Park Neighborhood Association and on the city’s new Social Justice Response Team. “You can’t just fix this with money,” he says. “There’s a complex web of what people need.”

Edmond wants:

-- The City Council to review police policies and hold officers accountable for infractions.

-- Elected officials to “stop dealing with marginalized communities in segments, splitting us into women, LGBTQ, minorities -- stop pitting us against each other.”

-- Funds from the police department to be reallocated to care for those traumatized by brutality or racism.

-- The city to draft new civil rights legislation, to update outdated policies.

-- The city to start a program to hire ex-offenders for public jobs.

Tom Kitt, 24, is a St. Petersburg bartender who has marched through his city almost every night. “My biggest issue is how this movement is being portrayed like it has no goal and is just chaos,” he says. “Those who are inciting violence are NOT part of the movement.”

Kitt wants:

-- Longer training periods and better psychological screening for police candidates.

-- Repercussions for excessive use of force, like suspension without pay, termination and prosecution.

-- Annual evaluations of active officers “to prove they’re worthy of wearing that badge.”

-- Higher standards for police behavior during traffic stops, investigations and interactions with the public.

-- De-escalation training for officers, so they can learn “how not to have to use their weapons.”

-- Mandatory psychological evaluations after any violent work-related event and monthly counseling for all officers.

Chelsey Ledoux, 38, has joined St. Petersburg protests two nights and plans to bring pizza to a Tampa event. A former social worker, she says she just showed up “to be part of the protests, to show my support, to see where we go next.”

Ledoux wants:

-- Bans on chokeholds and neck-restraining methods, and terminations of officers who use such tactics.

-- Special prosecutors in state and district attorneys’ offices to independently investigate police misconduct.

-- Increased officers’ salaries, more time off “to deal with the stress of the job.”

-- An anonymous complaint system, so citizens can file reports without fearing retribution.

-- Make it mandatory for officers to report peer misconduct; impose consequences for those who fail to report.

Devon Mims, 24, from Tampa, marched in Gainesville, where he is studying to be a veterinarian. He says he is “queer and black,” a member of the NAACP and University of Florida diversity organizations. “I want to live long enough to graduate, have a family and contribute to my community,” he says. “I want to see a generation of black children not have to be taught that silence, assimilation and emotional withdrawal are their best means of survival.”

Mims wants:

-- Smaller police forces.

-- Police to exhaust all alternatives before shooting and call an alert before firing a gun.

-- Ban shooting at moving vehicles.

-- Require all uses of force to be reported in public records.

-- Police to be liable for misconduct settlements.

-- More spending on community health, education, affordable housing.

Freedom for Florida includes 11 activist organizations, like the Dream Defenders, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Faith in Florida, Sheriffs for Trusting Communities and Latino Justice.

This group wants:

-- Police to carry less lethal weapons.

-- Restrict SWAT team use to emergency situations.

-- Restrictions on “No Knock” raids; require verbal warnings and provide time to comply.

The African People’s Socialist Party was formed in 1972 and is based in St. Petersburg, at the Uhuru House. The national group strives to “lead the struggle of the African working class and oppressed masses against U.S. capitalist-colonialist domination.”

This group wants:

-- Black community control over police hiring, firing and discipline in the black community.

-- Immediate release of anyone arrested during any rebellion.

-- Control of the Tropicana Field property “as reparations to the African community.”

March for our Lives Tampa Bay was formed in 2018, after the Parkland shooting. It demands gun law reform, holds vigils for victims and promotes peace at community events.

This group wants:

-- Ban use of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters.

Staff writers Kathryn Varn, Caitlin Johnson, Diana Nearhos, Emily Mahoney and Christopher Spata contributed to this report.