Since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Tampa Bay Community Action Committee has been a mainstay of the Tampa social justice movement. They’ve marched for abortion rights. They’ve shown up at Tampa City Council meetings with demands for the mayor and the police department.
But their calls for heightened local scrutiny of policing have gotten louder in recent weeks in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death at the hands of Memphis police officers.
Organizers have held numerous demonstrations — including one in downtown Tampa Saturday — in their effort to show the need for more reforms.
Two years after 2020′s summer of protests against police violence, has Tampa Bay made any progress in the eyes of progressive activists?
David Jones, an organizer with the community action committee, said Tampa is changing — slowly.
In November, the Tampa City Council moved to put before voters a question about adding independent counsel to a city police oversight board.
Activists, like Jones, have long called for such a move, arguing it would allow the Citizens Review Board to operate more autonomously from the city and its police department.
But Mayor Jane Castor vetoed the charter amendment in January, causing a fresh round of protests earlier this month. Although four of the seven city counselors voted to override Castor’s veto, the body fell short of the five votes needed to put the independent counsel question before voters.
“I don’t necessarily disagree with the spirit of some of the proposed amendments, but I believe they need to be more thoroughly vetted and developed before becoming part of our charter,” Castor wrote in a Tampa Bay Times op-ed explaining her vetoes.
Another key aim of the group, which would give the Citizens Review Board subpoena power, doesn’t yet have the support of the city council.
Still, Jones said the council’s clear support for reform on the board shows the issue isn’t going away.
Neither are his group’s protesters.
On Saturday, about a dozen activists with the community action committee and other progressive groups staged a rally honoring the lives of those killed by police officers across the country. The protesters focused on three January deaths — of Nichols, Keenan Anderson and Manuel Esteban Paez Terán — and reflected on past victims of what they described as Tampa Police Department violence.
“Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail!” They chanted. “The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”
Nichols, 29, died in Memphis three days after being beaten by a group of police officers. Six officers were fired and five were charged with murder. Anderson, 31, suffered from a heart attack after he was tased multiple times by Los Angeles police officers. Terán, 26, was shot by officers in Georgia while protesting the construction of a police training facility in a forest near Atlanta. Georgia officials say Terán shot at officers first but that there is no body camera footage of the shooting.
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The killings, all of which took the lives of people of color, were condemned by the protesters, who gave speeches and handed out flyers Saturday at Tampa’s Joe Chillura Courthouse Square.
“We’re standing in solidarity with the folks up in Memphis and uplifting the name of Tyre Nichols,” Jones said of the protest. “But we also want to bring attention back to what’s happened locally.”