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‘We need to start right here.’ Call for action at Clearwater vigil

There were speeches, songs and a call for the crowd to help stop police brutality and racial injustice.
About 300 or so people attended a vigil against police brutality and racism in Clearwater's Coachman Park on Sunday night. They shined lights with a mixture of candles and their phone lights in honor of black people who have lost their lives.
About 300 or so people attended a vigil against police brutality and racism in Clearwater's Coachman Park on Sunday night. They shined lights with a mixture of candles and their phone lights in honor of black people who have lost their lives. [ NATALIE WEBER | Times ]
Published Jun. 15, 2020

LIVE: Follow the Tampa Bay Times’ coverage of Sunday’s protests and events

CLEARWATER — Alexis Glasgow said she was inspired to organize Sunday night’s vigil against police brutality and racism after attending a protest in nearby Dunedin where she felt black voices were amplified.

Glasgow, a college student, grew up in Clearwater and said she wanted to offer her tight-knit community a way they can support racial justice.

“Once they leave I hope they feel fulfilled and understand how they can keep taking action,” Glasgow said before the event.

An estimated crowd of up to 300 showed up at Coachman Park for the vigil, where they heard speakers condemn systemic racism and elected leaders encourage the crowd to get more involved to change the system.

“Black is beautiful. Black is strong. Black is kind. Black lives matter,” Glasgow encouraged the crowd to chant over and over.

Zak Ryan, 21, came to the vigil so he could talk to others about racial inequality and feel supported. He said it’s hard for a black person to live in Clearwater.

“It’s just kind of tough to fit into the status quo,” Ryan said.

Related: As protests continue in Tampa and St. Pete, voting becomes a focus

Christina Stokes, a University of South Florida senior who won the Miss USF Scholarship Pageant, delivered a spech in which she said she was tired of seeing Black children and transgender people fall victim to violence.

“We are dying due to systemic racism and police brutality,” she said. “We are dying in a country that supports the genocide of its citizens.”

Following Stokes’ speech, protestors took a moment of silence and held their fists in the air for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd. That’s how long a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the handcuffed man’s neck, asphyxiating him on May 25.

Clearwater mayor Frank Hibbard told the crowd that he has asked other Tampa Bay elected officials and government leaders to attend a summit to discuss racial injustice.

But the mayor also cautioned the crowd not to make generalizations about all police departments and officers.

“The tactics that they used in Minneapolis are prohibited in the city of Clearwater,” he said.

City Council member Kathleen Beckman said demonstrators should get more involved if they want to continue fighting systemic racial inequality after the protests.

“The follow through is where real change happens,” she said.

That’s why they need to run for office to make local government more diverse.

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Maliyah Costa, a 23-year-old writer, came to the protest as part of a choir that sang “Stand By Me” during the vigil. Costa said the song captures the spirit of the vigil, and the need for allies to stand in solidarity with the black community.

Naomi Kerr, 17, Eric Sykes, 17, and Nila Johnson, 18, sat together during the vigil.

“This just shows that a lot of them are peaceful,” Johnson said of the protests.

She said she hopes people take action by voting.

Margaret Schulte, 56, who is white, wore a mask with “#BLM” written on it. She said she was there to amplify black voices.

Toward the end of the vigil, Elijah McGill performed a poem about police brutality and called for empathy and action.

“Love is the thing that we must all carry with us,” he said.

Then, protestors lit candles and shined their phone flashlights while organizers played a slideshow with the names and faces of black people killed in violent encounters with police officers.

Glasgow ended the vigil with a call for action.

“We need to start right here,” she said. “People need to be doing this all over the country.”

• • •

Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.

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.