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Local pastors use march to unite police, black communities

Delores Cain, pastor of Heritage Christian Community Baptist Church of Tampa, sings Thursday at Lykes Gaslight Park after marching about 1.5 miles with clergy members and others from Ybor City. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke at the event.
Delores Cain, pastor of Heritage Christian Community Baptist Church of Tampa, sings Thursday at Lykes Gaslight Park after marching about 1.5 miles with clergy members and others from Ybor City. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke at the event.
Published Jan. 2, 2015

TAMPA

Around the country, protests over police treatment of black men have closed streets and shut down a shopping mall.

A quiet downtown march in Tampa led by black clergy Thursday included not only a police escort but remarks by police Chief Jane Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

About 150 people made their way to Lykes Gaslight Park — some walking in their nice church clothes and others hitching rides in church vans — where they sang hymns, prayed for the safety of police officers and spoke out against racial discrimination.

Tom Scott, a pastor and former city council member and county commissioner, said the event was intended to bring the police force and the black community together. He said a protest without police input would do little to bridge the gap.

"That's the only way it can work," he said.

Anxiety has been high nationwide amid the police killings of two unarmed black men, one in Ferguson, Mo., the other in New York City. In both cases, grand juries declined to indict the officers involved. That set off protests in cities nationwide.

Then last month, two New York officers were gunned down while in their patrol car in Brooklyn, reportedly by a man who sought retribution for the police-related deaths. Also last month, a Tarpon Springs police officer was killed while responding to a call.

In Tampa on Thursday, many of those who attended the event, which kicked off with an Emancipation Proclamation service at Allen Temple AME Church, said they just wanted to speak out against violence — whether it's against black civilians or police officers themselves.

"We need to show that no matter if it's a black boy or a police officer, we want what's right," said Cynthia Jones, 59, of Tampa.

Buckhorn said he can recall when tensions were much higher between police and the black community. He said it's taken a lot of work, but that relationship is far better today.

"We're not where we need to be," he told the crowd. "But we're better than we used to be."

Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller, who is black, has a son on the Tampa police force. "I pray every day for his safety," he told the crowd. After the unrest in Ferguson, he said he sought assurances from Castor and Sheriff David Gee that their officers have good relationships with the black communities.

But he also told the crowd that 28 blacks were killed in Hillsborough last year by other black people, something the community needs to find ways to stop. "We've got killings of our own right here in Hillsborough County," he said.

That didn't sit well with Trey Gonzalez, a 23-year-old Tampa man who was holding an "Indict the system" sign. He said the pressing problems are police brutality and systematic racism. Besides, he said, no one ever talks about white-on-white violence.

"I feel like it's a deflection of the real issues," said Gonzalez, who is a spokesman for the Bay Activists Coalition Group.

Contact Jodie Tillman at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @jtillmantimes.

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