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Fear and Racism in Tampa


Last week, Dontae Rashawn Morris was arrested by the Tampa Police Department, suspected of killing two Tampa police officers the week prior. For nearly a week, the Tampa PD conducted the largest manhunt in city history in an attempt to find Morris. From the reports I read, TPD interviewed his family, his friends, his associates, and many other people who knew him or even knew of him.

However, buried in one of the articles on Morris’s capture was a little segment that made me worried.

According to the St. Pete Times,

Meanwhile, in the sprawling Kenneth Court apartment complex that Morris used to frequent, the police remained a constant presence through Friday.

“We all feel like prisoners, like we are being held hostage,” said Sherell Mitchell, 24. Seven months pregnant, she was seething about the hours she spent Wednesday afternoon with her two young children, locked out by a police barricade. “They said, ‘No one’s getting in and no one’s getting out.’ ”

Told of residents’ complaints, McElroy said, “it’s certainly not our intention to inconvenience or harass the people of this neighborhood.”

Notice there was no actual reporting there. Just claims. I’m not sure if the St. Pete Times actually did any investigation or merely put the quotes in to raise eyebrows. But the fact remains, did the cops inconvenience people as they searched for Morris? Personally, I don’t know. I don’t live in that part of town, nor was I anywhere near during the situation.

If these claims are true, it does open up the possibility of worsening public relations between the people of Morris’s community and the Tampa Police Department. There was no doubt Morris needed to be caught. He was public enemy number one. But I hope following the investigation, there was some motion to assuage relations between his community and the authorities.

Something tells me this wasn’t and isn’t the case.

The picture in this post is from an organization named the Black Peoples Advancement and Defense Organization (BPADO). According to their web site, BPADO’s mission is:

The mission of the Black Peoples Advancement & Defense Organization is to: protect and defend poor people, in Hillsborough County and the City Of Tampa, from every aggression of The State, great or small, intentional or accidental, by any means necessary, and educate, organize and mobilize people, in Hillsborough County and the City Of Tampa, in a way that will enable us to control our tax dollars, as well as the government officials responsible for those dollars, and make them work for our greater good, instead of our oppression.

I know Tampa has struggled in the issue of race. Few southern cities haven’t. In the four years I have lived in the area, I have noticed the city celebrates it’s pseudo-pirate culture and it’s legitimate Spanish culture far more than it does any other. It seems the African-American community has struggled here as much as they have in many other places in the south. The Wikipedia article on Tampa Riots, for example, is full of stories of people lashing out against authority, to include a 1987 riot after the police who arrested then-New York  Met pitcher Dwight Gooden were cleared of racist charges.

Has there been overreaction by African-American community leaders nationwide to perceived incidences of racism? I would say so. Jesse Jackson’s involvement in the LeBron James saga is a perfect example.

Have there been incidences where public movements have been essential to garner the fair treatment of people? Absolutely. That is the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr..

Although Dontae Morris is innocent until he gets his day in court, he didn’t come from the best part of town. His neck of the woods was where drugs and crime are higher than average in Tampa. However, security through citizen manipulation is not the answer, nor can it be allowed to be the perception. My hope is that somewhere between extreme action (or the perception thereof) and extreme reaction (or the threat thereof) there are people in the different communities of Tampa who can work with each other and build bridges of cooperation.

If not, we will continue to see reactive organizations such as BPADO emerge.


5 comments on Fear and Racism in Tampa

  1. If my neighbor had been the one who killed those officers I would have gladly suffered a little inconvenience of being blocked from entering my neighborhood for that man to get caught. I would hope those residents felt the same. For those that didn’t I feel sorry for them.

  2. Pretty hypocritical of you to point out facts and follow it with this statement:

    “Notice there was no actual reporting there. Just claims.”

    Then in your VERY OWN WORDS…

    “Something tells me this wasn’t and isn’t the case.”

    Shame on you.

  3. The difference, Rex, is that I was hypothesizing based on my own assumptions and the St. Pete Times was gathering other people’s quotes and letting readers jump to their own conclusions.

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