TAMPA, Fla. — The NAACP Hillsborough County branch and other community leaders issued a call to action outside the city hall in Tampa Wednesday, calling for change within the city and police department.
“Enough is enough,” said Yvette Lewis, president of the NAACP Hillsborough County branch. “The city of Tampa has had their foot on our neck for many years and we cannot breathe."
The news conference came in the wake of George Floyd's death, and protests across the country and city are demanding an end to racial inequality and police brutality.
“The Hillsborough County branch believes that the City of Tampa and law enforcement continue to suppress African Americans and Latinos by perpetuating systemic racism,” said Lewis.
During the news conference, Lewis said they want more workforce housing, for businesses receiving tax dollars to hire people from certain zip codes and a call for reform in law enforcement to make sure protection is done so fairly and equally.
Lewis said they believe all officers and vehicles should be equipped with cameras, that standards and training be reformed to end excessive use of force, a registry of police disciplinary action and that community policing practices should be instituted, including programs to incentivize police to live in the communities they serve.
“How long do we have to keep asking and asking for this city to open up their minds to the needs of African Americans and Latinos in this community? Change has got to come. They come to our place and our communities and ask us for our vote. We give it to them. Give us what we’re asking for,” said Lewis.
Leaders said they also want to see the Citizen’s Review Board revamped.
"It has no power. No accountability no subpoena power so nobody listens to it,” said Lewis.
The board was created several years ago. It’s made up of a panel of citizens that review complete disciplinary cases and issues of interest. It reports its findings to the police chief and makes recommendations for possible policy changes.
“It can entice and raise accountability, transparency and most importantly, trust, which is what’s lacking in the community right now,” said attorney Julius Adams, who does work with the ACLU. “And this is not a foreign idea to have a citizens review board that has some type of authority to do things like to look into investigative matters. Maybe to issues of police misconduct and to run those investigations parallel so that the community can be more informed about what’s going on in this community.”
Tampa Police said the chief has been saying he is open to discussing the CRB with the NAACP and city council members.
Last week, motions were made at Tampa City Council requesting the administration to allow the CRB to review the police department’s hiring process and make recommendations for new hires and be allowed to review the use of force policy and procedures on an ongoing basis.
“Although I did not attend this morning’s press conference, I was able to watch it via Facebook live, therefore, I do support reconfiguring the citizens review board to expand its powers and authority, city council, last week, approved almost one million dollars for body cameras for our police, and I look forward to sensible, meaningful discussion and action regarding police reform and how we can do better as a community and build better and stronger relationships between law enforcement and the public,” Council chair Guido Maniscalco wrote in part in a statement.
The City Council made motions to have a workshop to have a public discussion and review of police regulations, requested the legal department review the use of force policy, that police provide a report on diversity numbers and efforts to increase diversity in the department and requested the administration bring an implicit bias ordinance before them.
Maniscalco also addressed officers living within the communities they serve.
“The problem is the lack of affordable housing within the city. As the real estate market has bounced back over the last several years, home prices, especially in Tampa has skyrocketed. This is a major issue, because I believe an officer, or employee of the city, should be able to afford to live within the city limits. This applies to everyone, because the lack of affordable housing is affecting so many of our residents. I know the topic of affordable housing is a major issue for the Castor administration,” he stated.
The city also previously said eight policies included in Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait have been in effect in Tampa.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff said they are listening to the proposals from the ACLU and NAACP, and in regular contact with advocacy groups calling for reforms to law enforcement, affordable housing, jobs and social inequality.
“We will gladly sit at a table with these important community voices, agree where possible, and openly work through our differences so that together we can make progress,” Sheriff Chad Chronister wrote in a statement.
HCSO said it as a Black Advisory Council, Hispanic Advisory Council and an Indian Advisory Council made up of citizens that work with the office to address issues in minority communities and bridge gaps.
But outside the city hall, the voices were loud and clear.
“Every time the African people think they’re getting some relief whether it was through Emancipation Proclamation, coming out of Jim Crow, fighting the Civil Rights movement, we end back at this same place. And it’s a reason. Because we got deep deep deep unrecognizable by some but far too visible by others disparities,” said community activist Connie Burton.