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  1. Florida Politics

Local protests raise issue of police relations with black communities

Peaceful protests unfolded Tuesday in the Tampa Bay region's two largest cities, a reaction to the grand jury decision in St. Louis that also brought response from top officials.

In St. Petersburg, police Chief Tony Holloway said he welcomed a public conversation about how his department patrols black communities. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said officials have been working for years to improve relations with minority communities in his city.

Holloway responded after about 60 protesters chanted slogans and blocked traffic at Central Avenue and Fifth Street, walking in a circle around the intersection. Members of International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement led the demonstration.

Before the rally, Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the African People's Socialist Party, announced that the Uhuru group would hold a forum on Dec. 7 to discuss whether "Ferguson could happen here." He said they had invited Holloway and others.

"I think it's a good conversation to have about perception versus reality," said Holloway, who is black, speaking in an interview later.

"The biggest thing is we are arresting a lot of black male juveniles for burglaries, so the question we need to know is: Why are these kids breaking into homes or breaking into cars? What are we going to do as a community to stop these kids from wanting to steal from us? We just arrested a 12-year-old this morning."

In downtown Tampa, about 30 demonstrators gathered outside George E. Edgecomb Courthouse.

"I have a 2-year-old daughter and she should not have to live in a police state," said Nathan Dimoff, 23, of Fort Myers, a representative of South Florida Cop Block and one of the organizers of the protest. "I have an 8-year-old brother; it could have been him."

Buckhorn said officials were closely monitoring whether events in Ferguson impacted Tampa. "We're out in the neighborhoods in full force and taking the temperature wherever we go and whoever we talk to," he said. "It seems to be okay."

He said the rapport that Tampa police have with minority communities is "certainly much better than it was" in the late 1980s when two controversial arrests sparked unrest. "We've spent 25 years trying to strengthen that relationship," Buckhorn said.

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