TAMPA, Fla. — As crews began the daunting task of cleaning up businesses damaged by fire and rage Saturday night, others came out to bless the property where Champs Sports and Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant once stood.
“We understand that this is not the way, but there is a way,” said James Leon Gallon, a member of the University Square community and Omega Psi Phi.
People who live here want folks to express angst and disgust over police brutality in America and the death of George Floyd in a way that doesn’t destroy livelihoods.
“Our people are hurting, and we’ve got to find ways to channel that energy and feel like we’re getting justice and peace without the violence and the destruction,” said Lori Hardister Azziz, a 3rd-grade teacher at Belle Witter Elementary school.
Mangled metal and plastic accompanied by a crumbling roof and unstable beams — it’s all that’s left of at least a third of Fowler Plaza South.
“If you destroy my neighborhood, now I have to go to another neighborhood to spend money,” said Gallon. “Now, I have to buy Uber or get on the bus when it was in walking distance.”
Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan spoke to residents Monday during a press conference. Dugan says the Black Lives Matter march that happened earlier in the day Sunday was huge.
“Probably one of the largest marches that I have seen in my 30 years with the Tampa Police Department,” he said. “I don’t want the Black Lives Matter march mixed in with a few who have ill intentions.”
Castor echoed his statements.
“You know, the single mother that works at Champs is now out of a job,” Castor said. “She just got to the point after this virus where she could go back to work and support her family, and now she’s out of a job because of the actions of a few knuckleheads.”
Sarah Combs, the CEO for the University area CDC, says they’ve worked so hard to build this area up.
“Our residents are not happy with what has happened, and their voices need to be heard,” she said.
So far, they’ve built a 7-acre park and are using $5.8 million from Hillsborough County to build a new housing development nearby. They also have plans to build a cultural campus.
“We have a long way to go, but the only way we’re going to get there is making sure we take a seat and listen to our residents and then act,” said Combs.
Castor also reminded people COVID-19 is still a threat.
“Our cases here in Hillsborough County are continuing to go up. I stated from the very beginning as we opened our community, we would see an increase in positive cases of COVID-19,” she said.
She asks peaceful protesters and everyone else to stay home and away from big crowds.