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Tampa police march with shooting victims’ families to seek help making arrests

Cardboard cutouts of Patrick Reed, Dwayne Saddler and Devante Brown rose above the crowd in a mile-long walk through the predominately Black neighborhood of Jackson Heights.
Johnny Johnson talks about the slaying of his son Jayquon Johnson as his wife holds a cardboard cutout of their son.
Johnny Johnson talks about the slaying of his son Jayquon Johnson as his wife holds a cardboard cutout of their son. [ ANASTASIA DAWSON | Times ]
Published Jan. 17
Updated Jan. 18

Patrick Reed was picking up his 12-year-old son up from football practice last November when he was killed in a drive-by shooting, his mother said. Her grandson told her a crowd of people watched the 36-year-old Tampa man use his body to shield two children as bullets sprayed through a park.

Another crowd witnessed the shooting death of 28-year-old Dwayne Saddler during a party in the College Hills neighborhood last July. And another saw who shot 27-year-old Devante Brown in March when he left his home in the Tampa Park Apartments to hang out with friends.

Still, the people who killed Reed, Saddler and Brown remain at large, Tampa Police said, leaving their families with a growing agony. Now, as shootings tear Tampa’s Black community apart, those left behind are banding together to bring an end to “no-snitch culture.”

On Sunday, the mothers of Devante Brown and Dwayne Saddler urged their neighbors to take a public stand against the gunfire, joining Mayor Jane Castor, Tampa Police and others for the first in a series of “peace walks” under the banner “Rise Up for Peace.”

Tampa Police say the surge in shootings began in March as the coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay home and practice social distancing. Since March 1, police have investigated more than 100 shootings of young black males. During that same timespan, TPD seized more than 150 guns and responded to more than 900 gun-related crimes, up from 450 gun-related crimes recorded in all of 2019.

Related: Tampa sees alarming surge in violent crime; leaders discuss guns, gangs, solutions

“This senseless killing has got to stop,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told a crowd of about 200 Sunday at the Jackson Heights NFL Youth Association Town Center. “People know where the guns are, they know who is committing these acts. You have got to come forward with that information so that we can ensure that we don’t add any more faces to those we’ve already had to bury.”

Tampa saw roughly double the number of shootings in 2020, 131 compared to 68 the year before. In the month of November alone, Tampa police recorded 23 shootings, Chief Brian Dugan said. In November 2019, there were four. Castor, the city’s former police chief, said she’s never seen such a surge.

The faces of Patrick Reed, Dwayne Saddler and Devante Brown rose above the crowd Sunday. Their mothers carried life-sized cutouts of the three men in a mile-long march through the heart of Jackson Heights.

The group of grieving families, community members, local officials and police officers also carried the nearly 6-foot tall image of 17-year-old Jayquon Johnson, killed while hanging out with friends on New Years Day in 2017, and 15-year-old Julissa Jackson, killed the following year during a shooting at a New Year’s Eve party in a Tampa warehouse.

And they carried Marvin Lancaster III, 21, whose death was broadcast live on internet apps like Periscope when he was caught in a drive-by shooting outside Club Rayne in 2016.

Related: Has crime gone up or down in Tampa? State attorney candidates differ.

Jaquline Saddler-Davis was trying to tell the crowd about her son Dwayne when screams and laughter from a nearby playground were drowned out by the sound of police and ambulance sirens. She broke down.

“Dwayne was born with a heart problem,” Saddler-Davis said. “They told me he wouldn’t live to be 13-years-old, but he did.”

Saddler-Davis formed the Rise Up for Peace movement with Devante Brown’s mother, Patricia Brown. The mission is simple, she said. “Get the community back together like it used to be, when everybody looked out for everybody and we were a family.

“Why are we turning on ourselves? Why are we killing ourselves for no reason?”

The group urged those with information about any of the city’s unsolved shootings to submit an anonymous tip to Tampa Police at 813-231-6130 or to CrimeStoppers Tampa Bay.

Anonymous tips to the Crime Stoppers hotline, 800-973-8477, could be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000, said Janelle McGregor, the city’s community partnerships manager.

”You don’t have to give your name, you don’t have to tell them where you live,” McGregor said. “They’re not even going to ask you.”

Castor brought one of her sons to Sunday’s march. The lesson she took from conversations she would have: Relationships, personal or public, have to be worked on day in and day out.

One example, she said, is ongoing task force meetings with members of the Black community that were started after the city’s Black Lives Matters protests.

“I think the most salient lesson learned for us during the civil disorder over the summer was that we had failed to establish relationships with younger generations,” Castor said. “That was a lesson learned.”

Now, she said, “we have the community define the kind of policing we really need.”