Tampa Council could block new police chief over department targeting black cyclists

That lil' story about a Tampa police practice of targeting African Americans who ride bicycles in low-income neighborhoods isn't going away like some city officials probably wish it would.

About half an hour after the close of a press conference touting Mayor Bob Buckhorn's newest hire, probably-soon-to-be Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward, activists from the ACLU and numerous other organizations, as well as a couple of City Council members, called on the city to halt the practice, at least until a U.S. Department of Justice has time to determine whether or not it's legal.

Ward had said earlier he supports the policy even though he's African American and was born and raised in East Tampa, one of the areas targeted.

“So now we are faced with a new chief, the question becomes, what will he do? Will he continue this policy?" said former National Bar Association President Warren Hope Dawson, a Tampa attorney, at Lykes Gaslight Park Thursday. "If our good mayor could suspend this policy until the Justice Department Acts, and it may take a while for the Justice Department to act, because the Justice Department is pretty busy these days ... we think that if that does not happen, the City Council should step up.”

The Tampa City Council has the authority to confirm — or not — nominees for such positions. 

Council Chair Frank Reddick said if the practice doesn't stop, he may propose blocking Ward's confirmation, though it's not something to which he'd given much thought yet.

“We will leave that as one of our options as necessary,” he said. “I will not make any promise that I will confirm or not confirm.”

Buckhorn has apparently not taken the idea of someone publicly challenging him very well.

"He and others will pay consequences," Buckhorn said, according to a tweet Fox 13 report Evan Axelbank posted.

(Um, what year is this and have we teleported to Chicago?)

To the group of people at Lykes Gaslight Park, the stakes are high for the people in the affected neighborhoods.

“We put a lot of brown-skinned young men into prison rather than into college," said the Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer, executive director of the Florida Council of Churches. "We lead the state in doing that. And every time we do that we lose eight classroom seats. And all of us spend more money on the Department of Corrections than we do on the Department of Education in the State of Florida. That's insanity. We send them to jail, they learn crime, then we send them back to the neighborhood they came from with broken families.”

Current Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, whom Ward is replacing when she retires in less than a week, said the people on bicycles they're targeting aren't being aggressively policed because they're people of color on bicycles, but because they're on bicycles in high-crime areas.

Meyer said crime happens everywhere, even Tampa Palms, where he lives. If the rate is higher in low-income neighborhoods, handcuffing someone for not having a bike light isn't going to solve anything. Investing in the community, on the other hand, might.

"If you see more [crime] in impoverished areas, it's directly related to poverty," Meyer said. "If you want to reduce it in impoverished areas, get jobs. Give people a way to live."

While Buckhorn warned of "consequences" should City Council members not confirm Ward, those who were gathered across from TPD headquarters warned of consequences of their own if the predatory policing didn't stop.

“We need justice," Dawson said. "The people need to be protected. And if not, then we'll have to ask the courts to protect them.”

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