The Tampa Dream Defenders led a protest in solidarity with the residents of Ferguson, in a rally calling for Justice for Mike Brown. They made their demands at the Lykes Gaslight Square Park, located next to the Tampa Police Department’s main headquarters, with City Hall standing across the street.
Their list of demands included an end to police brutality, an end to the militarization of the police and a call for justice to hold those responsible, specifically Darren Wilson, the officer that shot and killed Mike Brown. They would also like police officers to be required to wear forward facing cameras, and that the records for individuals in Tampa who are stopped, harassed, raided, or arrested and never convicted be made public, in order to prove racial profiling by the police. As of now, the only records available are those of convicted individuals.
Since 2000 The U.S. Department of Justice has been required to report statistical data for arrest related deaths. These statistics include individuals who died while in custody, under restraint, as well as those who were not in custody or formally arrested.
“Last year five percent of Floridians were arrested," said Reverend Dr. Russell Meyer, with Florida Council of Churches "One out of 20 people. An astounding number. Think of it: How many in this rally would that be? One out of 25 males like me were arrested. Of course, most arrests were targeted at blacks. Nearly one out of every 10 blacks were arrested in Florida last year. Mostly male, of course. That means nearly one of five black males were arrested – last year alone! Look around brothers and sisters. If society really needed to arrest that many of us, we wouldn't be gathered in a peaceful assembly. We’d be hiding from the open violence. We’d all be packing heat.”
Dr. Joyce Hamilton, the Director of Advocacy for the ACLU of Florida, feels that voters must show up to tomorrow's primary election to hold our elected officials accountable. She sees this movement as a way for people to come together to call for changes in both our criminal justice and juvenile justice systems.
“The privatization of our prisons is a problem, because they are making a living off the backs of our youth in our community," Henry said.
According to the ACLU, children are being funneled through a system called the “School to Prison Pipeline.” They are being punished like criminals for minor infractions on school grounds. Once in the criminal system, it is very difficult for them to get out.
Alex Suarez, a local activist, says that he attended a rally last week where about fifteen people showed up, and that on Saturday he was iexcited to see that there were at least three times that many people. He's confident that the number will increase with each upcoming rally.
Reverend Meyer and several other speakers believe that we have become a nation that fears its own neighbors and Michael Brown's legacy requires the public to overcome that fear. That the members of neighboring communities must get to know each other, share their stories, come out from behind gated communities. “Real communities are filled with people who care about each other. It’s time for real community in Tampa,” says Reverend Meyer.
Many of the speakers named other young victims throughout the state such as Arthur Green and Javon Neal of Tampa, Israel Hernandez of Miami, and Jordan Davis of Jacksonville.
After the speeches and rally, the group of approximately 75 people marched to the Police Department with their hands up, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Inside they continued to chant and were met with no opposition from officers on duty.
Crystal Wilson, representing SNICC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, recites her speech with deep passion and conviction.
“Police brutality is not anything new in black and brown communities," Wilson said." So, when we stand here today, I can personally say thank you for standing here today with us, because in order to change this society that we live in, it takes more than black and brown people. It takes all of us. It takes every American citizen.”
“People of color are more likely to live in poverty, to be arrested and imprisoned, to suffer from the consequences of substandard education, to drop out of school, to hold minimum wage jobs," said local poet Trey Moore. "Is this true? Is this real? Is this justice?" he asked.