TAMPA — Protesters hosted a sit-in on Wednesday aimed at pushing local leaders to make real, substantial change against police brutality and systemic racism.
Emadi Okwuosa, 22, who was arrested last week on charges of inciting a riot, was back behind the bullhorn on Wednesday afternoon. He asked protesters gathered on the steps outside Tampa City Hall to channel their energy into creating a list of demands. He was encouraged by the changes spurred by protesters he’s seen in Minneapolis and Los Angeles, where elected officials pushed for cuts in police funding.
“Nationwide, awareness is going to lead to change,” Okwuosa said.
Wednesday’s event was organized by the Black Collective Movement, a group created to advocate against police brutality after the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died at the hands of police last month. The group presented its demands and asked others in attendance to share their thoughts. Their demands included defunding police as a step toward abolishment.
“We want to put that money back into low-income communities,” said Shaleea Gaines, 20, a co-founder of the Tampa group. “We need that money back in our communities."
They also called for the end of for-profit prisons and for-profit policing. They wanted to see withholding of pensions and paid leave while officers are under investigation for misconduct, third party investigations of police misconduct and charging officers who don’t intervene in police misconduct.
"These ‘good cops’ that we see can’t be that good if they’re literally watching these things happen,” Gaines said.
D’Mario Edgecombe, 22, said he wanted protesters to focus on voting.
“Chief Dugan, get him out,” he said. “Mayor Jane Castor, get her out. There’s more to this than just protesting. Now is the time to channel that energy to other things.”
Roshonda Kelly, who came with her wife Marquita and nine-year-old daughters Jaelynn and Moriah, reminded protestors they were fighting against systemic racism.
“How will we know when we get what we’re protesting for?” she asked. “We’re not fighting Jane Castor or even the police. We’re fighting against higher powers.”
She gestured toward her daughters.
“I’m going to leave this earth fighting for what is right so that when my day is over they can lead a peaceful life,” she said.
Jaelynn said she wanted to show her support for George Floyd’s daughter. “I know she might be struggling right now,” she said. “I know what it feels like to lose someone you care about.”
As the rain picked up in the late afternoon, organizers of Wednesday’s demonstration moved the crowd to a covered area across the street. Organizers asked the crowd questions like, “what does defunding the police mean to you?” and, “what does prison reform look like?”
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Protesters passed around the bullhorn sharing thoughts about decriminalizing marijuana and asking corporations to stop contracting with police. Others asked to invest more in public safety prevention programs that would reduce instances where police would be called. Some encouraged the group to contact State Attorney Andrew Warren to drop unlawful assembly charges for arrested protesters.
The discussion wrapped up in an hour. Okwuosa told protesters their voices are making a difference. He said he spoke to Mayor Castor, who told him tear gas would not be used unless protesters “were harming anyone". He credits the peaceful protests over the last week for that change.
Ashley Bauman, spokeswoman for Castor, said the city has never used tear gas.
Edgecombe said the ending systemic racism is not something that will be solved by demonstrating for days, but the momentum is helpful.
“It’s not just one week or two weeks,” he said. “It’s lots of battles. It’s a war.”
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.
WHAT ARE POLICE USING? A guide to non-lethal and less-lethal weapons used in local, national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
WHY DO POLICE CLASH WITH PROTESTERS? We looked at law enforcement rules. They urge de-escalation but only to a point.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
SOME NEW, SOME LONGTIME FAVORITES: Here are 15 black-owned restaurants and food businesses in Tampa Bay