NEW PORT RICHEY — While hundreds have protested in the streets of Tampa and St. Petersburg in the wake of the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, there’s been a much smaller movement in Pasco County.
Protests haven’t happened daily. And none of them have drawn more than 150 people at a time.
Activist Marlowe Jones, 29, believes that’s because of the county’s history of racism.
“People are intimidated here,” Jones said. “We’re outnumbered. If people go into the streets here, they’re frowned upon by their neighbors.”
African Americans make up just 6.5 percent of the county’s total population which is overwhelmingly white, U.S. Census Bureau data shows. Jones, who has lived in the county his entire life, said this is why places like Pasco need the most work to institute real change.
Jones was among a handful of protesters who met with Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco last week to discuss a plan for action. The conversation focused on issues like police training and recruitment, according to Jones. He described it as “very constructive.”
“When you ask most people in Pasco, even commissioners, they’ll come out and say Pasco is fine, the racism isn’t here,” said Jones at a protest held outside of the West Pasco Judicial Center in New Port Richey last Wednesday. “We need change now. We’ve needed change.”
Jones said his family has lived on the county’s west side for over 100 years. He stayed after graduating from Ridgewood High School despite the racism he saw. He founded the Pasco Young Revolutionaries years ago — an organization that has been central in scheduling and spreading the word about Black Lives Matter movement since the beginning of June.
Jones said that one of the main issues he brought up at the meeting with Nocco was about how the sheriff’s office recruits deputies.
“The meeting was a very productive discussion on many issues including mental health, training, recruitment and ways to continue to serve our community,” read a statement from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office after Nocco met with protesters. It went on to say that many of the suggestions brought forward by activists had already been implemented by the sheriff’s office, such as minority recruiting efforts.
Speaking to a crowd of 40 outside the courthouse in New Port Richey last week, Jones drew applause for wanting to create a statewide system that ensures officers cannot commit a crime in one county and then be hired by another agency.
“We want our legislators in Tallahassee to get their acts together and make some policy reforms,” he said. “We need to have a statewide system that — if a cop does something in some department — he can’t get hired in the next county and do the same thing."
Jones was one of a handful of speakers at the protest last week. Another was Brandi Geoit, 44, who is also running for Pasco County Commission in District 5.
“Somebody should not be treated any differently just because they happen to have a lot more melanin in their skin than I do,” Geoit said. “But yet, at this time, I watch on the news where black men are being hunted down like game for sport.”
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Geoit said she’s been proud to see how the Black Lives Matter movement has grown in Pasco County, even though it hasn’t drawn crowds like in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Jones said the first step in moving Pasco forward is to have a conversation. Nocco told protestors he would be open to holding a town hall at the African American Club in Port Richey once the coronavirus pandemic came to an end, Jones said.
“I was happy to hear that,” Jones said. “It’s a start.”
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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 NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.