By Jim Bleyer
A three-dimensional black and white chess game continues to be played out in Tampa between city officials and the African-American community with no resolution in sight.
As in the board game, the queen, Mayor Jane Castor, is going full throttle to protect the king, Police Chief Bryan Dugan. Only in this instance, the royalty is racist.
The queen is playing only for time, hoping to wear down her opponent until it vanishes. Guess again. The black chess pieces aren’t going away.
A change.org petition headlined, “Tampa Police Terrorize Citizens: Fire TPD Chief Brian Dugan, NOW” has already garnered more than 2,500 signatures.
Tampa police have had a long history of terrorizing the city’s minority community and those abuses have only intensified with Castor’s involvement, first as police chief and now as mayor. Dugan is imbued with the mistreatment and targeting of blacks and Castor is standing by her man.
The latest: Jonas Joseph, 26, was murdered during a routine traffic stop on Apr. 28. A group of law enforcement officers surrounded Jonas’ car and fired 125 rounds into it. Nearly 60 days after the gangland-style killing, activists demanded the release of all available evidence. State Attorney Andrew Warren subsequently released “evidence” that was wildly contrary to the Tampa Police Department’s earlier narrative.
“It’s time to reallocate funding and turn the page on community terror,” declares the Dugan petition. “It’s time for new leadership and deliberate movement toward abolishing militarized law enforcement and the establishment of a multi-disciplinary public safety corps.”
Other cities have reallocated resources away from militarized law enforcement to social services and health care that would directly assist Tampa’s low-income families and marginalized citizens. If the Tampa power elite steps up into the 21st century, the city could join its more enlightened peers.
In contrast to moribund government, the University of South Florida is taking on systemic racism in Tampa Bay. USF has earmarked $500,000 to investigate various factors that contribute to economic disparity, police violence, and social injustices.
The minority community doesn’t just want to see Dugan cashiered. They want Castor’s head on a platter as well. Calls for her resignation are gaining traction. Several groups, including Black Lives Matter and the Restorative Justice Coalition, want city officials that offer justice and substantive social change. They’re not getting either with Castor or Dugan.
When Castor was police chief, the U.S. Department of Justice found Tampa Police unfairly stopped and ticketed black bicyclists as part of a “bike stop” program. According to the DOJ, data showed that while black residents made up only 40 percent of estimated bicycle riders during that time, 73 percent of all bicycle stops were of black cyclists. The program had no effect on reducing crime or bike theft, according to the report.
To this day, Castor refuses to apologize to the black community for her targeting program. Her mayoral campaign consisted of misleading fundraising claims and superficial resets of her bigoted, harsh persona. Castor won the mayoralty with 15 percent of Tampa’s registered voters supporting her.
Resistance to change is de rigeur here but Tampa is lurching in reverse while other comparably-sized cities have marched well into the new millennium.
The Black side won’t accept a draw in the chess match with Castor.
The whole country is watching. Tampa yearns to be evaluated as a tourist destination, retirement haven, and a place to do business either as a relocation or startup. With decades of sanctioned racism, Tampa is a tough sell.
Then there is the Super Bowl, scheduled to be held here in February. If strained race relations continue and become even more exacerbated, protestors would have a focal point to air their grievances before an international press.
Superbowl Week could easily become Hell Week.