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Community forum on police race relations critical of Tampa mayor

Life Malcolm, a poet and advocate in the African-American community, speaks at a forum Saturday about race relations and law enforcement in Tampa. At center is moderator Dr. Kurt Young and panelist Dr. Susan Greenbaum is at right.
Life Malcolm, a poet and advocate in the African-American community, speaks at a forum Saturday about race relations and law enforcement in Tampa. At center is moderator Dr. Kurt Young and panelist Dr. Susan Greenbaum is at right.
Published Aug. 3, 2015

TAMPA — Arthur Green Jr.'s wife hasn't heard from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a family friend, since the man died last year. Green suffered a diabetic seizure during an encounter with Tampa police officers. While handcuffed, Green stopped breathing.

Since then, his family has sued the Police Department and advocated for a law requiring that officers receive training for diabetic emergency recognition. They've been told the mayor can't communicate with them because of their pending lawsuit.

But the family feels it's not enough.

On Saturday, they facilitated a community conversation on race relations and Tampa law enforcement that drew nearly 100 people. It was fueled by mounting criticism of the city's relationship with black residents. Organizers called the forum "Injustice and Inequality in Tampa's African American Community in the Buckhorn Era."

"It was framed (that way) because this happened on his watch," said Lena Young-Green, Arthur Green's wife and a prominent Tampa Heights community leader. "It was framed because we think that his reaction set a precedent."

Attendees and panelists hit the mayor hard, criticizing his and retired police Chief Jane Castor's leadership of the police department. They often circled back to the disparity in bicycle citations to Tampa residents. Eight out of 10 people ticketed are black.

"The bicycle stops are a symptom of the bigger problem, and we're hearing about what that problem is," said Joyce Hamilton-Henry, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

The Green family said Buckhorn was made aware of the community conversation Saturday, but was not explicitly invited. Lena Young-Green said she didn't want officials to chill the conversation.

There was a forumwide call for the creation of a police civilian review board, something neighboring cities St. Petersburg and Sarasota already have in place, Hamilton-Henry said. She called on attendees to share their own stories about interaction with law enforcement, which she hopes will inspire an investigation into the department by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Hamilton-Henry said her organization and several others recently met with new Tampa police Chief Eric Ward, an African-American who grew up east Tampa, to talk about the creation of a civilian review board. Hamilton-Henry said the chief's response was lackluster. The topic will resurface Thursday at the Tampa City Council meeting.

The Tampa Bay Times reached out to the mayor's office before the forum, and attempts to reach the his office after the event were unsuccessful.

Yvette Lewis with the Hillsborough County NAACP told the room that true change will only come if the people present get involved in the electoral process.

"I need you at City Council every day, just like you're here. The people who go to vote and have the power don't look like us," Lewis said. "I promise you if Mayor Bob Buckhorn and City Council started seeing our numbers I know they'd go, uh-oh. There is power in numbers."

The person most critical of the mayor was Tampa businessman Stanley Gray, who served as a Marine and is a 15-year resident of Tampa. Gray said the mayor has not kept promises he made to the black community during his campaign.

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"If you say you care about black issues, you need to do something about it," Gray said.

Gray and others compared Tampa's protocols to those of St. Petersburg, where police Chief Tony Holloway has implemented a Park, Walk and Talk initiative to emphasize community policing and relationship building.

"In St. Petersburg, they recognize their problems," he said.

Former state Rep. Betty Reed was in attendance, as was Hillsborough County Commission candidate Pat Kemp.

The Green family plans to host more community conversations, which will build upon the issues identified Saturday. The next forum is scheduled Nov. 14.

After hours of debate, Arthur Green's sons delivered closing remarks.

"Since my dad died, I think someone has died every month," said Owen Young, an area superintendent for the Hillsborough School District. "We haven't found closure yet because we can't. Because it hasn't stopped."

Arthur Green III, executive director of his father's memorial foundation, added:

"My family, we have always been built on the idea of action. We don't have time for naysayers. We don't have time for the negative. We need to fight on all fronts."

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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