Fighting, and powering through, in Tampa Bay

Editor's Note.

click to enlarge Protesters following a march to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's house in Tampa, Florida on July 31, 2020. - Dave Decker
Dave Decker
Protesters following a march to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor's house in Tampa, Florida on July 31, 2020.

If you’re still lucky enough to have a job, then you know “Mondays” haven’t changed much. August 3, however, was a doozy because it came with news about a pro-police “Back the Blue” mural that was painted without a permit outside the police station in downtown Tampa.

The piece looks interesting; some critics say it reads like the Microsoft font Wingdings. As you’ll see in the four pages this issue devotes to the illegal public art, the specifics and embarrassment surrounding the mural are complicated (even Tampa’s former police chief mayor said she didn’t verbally approve in lieu of a permit), and they deal directly with what newspaper coverage of protests has been addressing before and after George Floyd died underneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.

It’d be easy to look at CL’s coverage of local protests since May 25 and say, “You guys write about the cops a lot,” or “You aren’t being very kind to the mayor or police chief.” A reasonable person even called our coverage “gross” because it referenced one of the “Back the Blue” muralist’s testimony in an early-’90s sexualt assault case. You could say we’re obsessed with the issues, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. The coverage isn’t “gross” (I’ll get to that). And no one actually wants to see their elected officials—the folks supposed to be tasked with caring for their constituents—fail, but it’s getting pretty dicey out here.

A lot of the effort spent by this alt-weekly’s staffers—Digital Editor Colin Wolf and myself—plus many of its contributing writers and photographers is, in fact, directed towards reporting and opining about the police response to Black Lives Matter protests and the call for a major overhaul of local policing. St. Petersburg’s Police Department has taken a significant step in creating its community assistant liaison team that will respond to non-violent calls. Tampa’s response has been slower (task forces for everyone!), and its City Council is now dealing with letters from police union lawyers saying some of the more progressive suggested reforms to the Community Review Board are illegal.

You could argue that all that energy takes away from some of the positive stories about the arts and community,—and in a way it does—apologies to DJ Sandman, Wendy Barrett and Peter Meineke.

But all that energy spent by this small group is focused on one thing: power.

In these times specifically, we’re talking about the power that police forces have always had over marginalized communities—all the way back to the slave patrol days. We’re wringing our hands about the power of bureaucrats to dominate news cycles with messages of hate and division. We’re pushing against the power local politicians have to ignore the press or provide vague answers until the next dust-up switches the public’s focus. And we’re checking the power and privilege that some individuals and groups—yes, sometimes people who’ve been a part of some heinous crimes—have to cloak their anti-Black Lives Matter sentiments beneath a pro-police facade.

And all this is to say that many among us could do more to empower those who have felt powerless in this system—especially if there’s nothing holding us back from doing so.

This paper’s got a lot to lose by ruffling feathers, but the protesters in the street have even more on the line. The ones with Black skin are fighting for their very lives. The least we can do is put a fist up, throw a phone call at a councilman and shove a vote in the ballot box (or mailbox). If you can, go march, but no matter what, please try and fight the power in every way you can.

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Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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