The federal trial seeking accountability for the death of Andrew Joseph III began today, and several activists from Florida and around the country arrived in Downtown Tampa to support the Joseph family.
While jury selection occurred inside Judge Mary Scriven's courtroom at the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse, the activists gathered outside. There, they decried the actions of Hillsborough County Sheriff (HCSO) Deputies, who detained and removed Joseph against his will from Student Day the Florida State Fair in 2014.
Some kids were out of control at the event, HCSO says, but the Josephs say their son wasn't involved in the alleged bad behavior. Still, sheriff's deputies removed the 14-year-old from the fair, and didn't notify his parents. While trying to make his way home, Joseph was struck by a car on Interstate-4 and killed.
"Hillsborough County Sheriffs disregarded, devalued and criminalized him," said Tabatha Jones Jolivet of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. "That is why we're here."
Jones added that the trial will display the disregard for Andrew Joseph's life, and also highlight the way in which qualified immunity harms victims of law enforcement misconduct.
Several speakers sounded off while Joseph's parents were inside for the jury selection. They focused on the fact that qualified immunity is not a law, but an unjust legal principle that families like the Josephs encounter when they try to get justice for police abuse.
Andrew Joseph's mother, Deanna Joseph, also decried qualified immunity when she spoke to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay about the trial on Aug. 31. She said that immunity has made it difficult for the family to receive any information from HCSO about their son's death. Because of qualified immunity, only one officer has been subpoenaed for the trial—HCSO Corporal Mark Clark.
But the activists pointed out that at least three more officers were involved in Joseph's death, and that qualified immunity has shielded them from being involved in the trial.
"They don't get to steal the lives of our people, they don't get to steal the lives of our children and not be held accountable," BLM Grassroots Director Melina Abdullah said. "Accountability means that when wrong is done, someone must pay."
Abdullah said that activists from Michigan, Boston, California, Alabama and Florida were at the rally in support, and that most of them would remain for the entirety of the trial, which is set to run from today until Sept. 22.
She said HCSO has "deepened the wound" of the Joseph family by dragging out the trial process for the past several years. She added that the coalition of activists hopes for as large as a monetary settlement as possible for the family, which has asked for $30 million in damages.
The settlement would help show law enforcement they can't treat Black families this way, not just in Tampa, but elsewhere as well, she said.
"We're here from all over the country," Abdullah added. "We must uplift the name Andrew Joseph the third because that 14-year-old child represents my children. That 14-year-old child represents all Black children."
In a comment to CL last year, HCSO blamed Joseph's actions and his clothing for his death.
“It was determined by detectives who investigated the crash that the cause was not due to driver impairment, but rather, Joseph running across a highway in the dark, not wearing reflective clothing, in an area that was not designated as a crosswalk,” HCSO wrote in an email to CL.
Changes have been made at the fair, which now requires students to be accompanied by adults and for parents to be called if a child is ejected.
Several local activists helped organize the rally today, including members of Restorative Justice Coalition, Dream Defenders, Tampa Bay Community Action Committee and local faith groups.
Pastor Clayton Coward of the Lakeland activist group Poor and Minority Justice Association called for unity from activists of all kinds.
"We stand together as one, and I think that it is unity that we need in this community against what has been done," Coward said. "It is our prayer and hope that the right thing will be done."
Carl Soto, a pastor who co-founded Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk County, said that the trial brings both anger and hope.
"We know without a doubt that this young man was racially profiled with no regard for his civil rights, safety or the concern for his parents," he said. "So today, we are outraged but we are a partially relieved as we start this trial. We are hoping for the truth to be revealed to the public and we are looking for transparency."