This moment demands even more action from Tampa Bay's new crop of Black Lives Matter sympathizers

You've done a lot, now get ready for the long haul.

click to enlarge Protesters in Ybor City, Florida on June 8, 2020. - Javier Ortiz
Javier Ortiz
Protesters in Ybor City, Florida on June 8, 2020.

So the “protest the right way” crowd has finally seen that the shunned San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was indeed engaging in a passive and peaceful protest when he took a knee during the national anthem. But even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell knows that he’s getting the memo extremely late.

Two weeks ago, horrifying video showing the murder of George Floyd circulated online. In it, the 46-year-old Black man is killed while under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer who now faces second-degree murder charges. In the aftermath, the third precinct of Minnesota’s police department (where said officer and the three who accompanied him at Floyd’s execution worked) burned at the hands of rioters, whose looting and anger reflected the fire burning inside Americans of all races wholly fed up with militarized police forces and poor policing of the Black community.

Brands, banks and foodie influencers started posting the social media activism hashtag du jour. Elected officials and local law enforcement knelt in solidarity with protesters. Being woke to the plight of Black Americans—all subject to two centuries of the residual effects of white colonialism—was in vogue. The staunchest Trump supporters in your life even started warming up to the idea that all lives, even blue ones, couldn’t start to matter until Black ones did.

So what is a recovering Kaepernick-hater supposed to do when their hearts are changing? That’s complicated.

click to enlarge Protesters in Ybor City, Florida on June 8, 2020. - Javier Ortiz
Javier Ortiz
Protesters in Ybor City, Florida on June 8, 2020.

Support Black businesses? Can do. Share that “8 Can’t Wait” Instagram slide? Check. Participate in #BlackoutTuesday (without taking away from #BlackLivesMatter)? Got it. March in a protest or two? Of course, with a rebellious facemask on, too. By all means, keep doing all of that, and get your friends in on it, too. But change is going to take even more than that.

Two weeks ago, NPR TV Critic and MSNBC contributor Eric Deggans reminded Creative Loafing Tampa Bay to be cognizant of the way the media—especially those in spot news mode since the election of Trump—rushes to stories like Floyd’s. Images of protests, some of which turned violent, still played into cable television’s habit of only covering issues about race and policing when it’s hot news; the coverage has, and always will, serve to keep your eyes on the screen.

“There’s a lot of anger and passion. And then these outlets say, ‘Hey let’s talk about the most combustible subject in American history,’ which is how Black people are treated by police officers,” Deggans said. It feels weird and counterintuitive to hear it, but Deggans felt frustration in seeing Van Jones and CNN anchors shouting at the camera. After all, there were already protestors on screen expressing that rage.

“What we need from people who are expert commentators is a way to channel that passion and energy into something constructive,” Deggans, who added that he’s just as outraged as every other Black person, said. So where do you start?

Maybe it’s on social media, where you can stop sharing memes questioning the motives of looters since they are, in fact, separate from protestors. You might even start calling out the racist Twitter and Facebook posts by your third cousin twice removed. But Dr. Kelli S. Burns, Associate Professor at the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communication at the University of South Florida, told CL that some people aren’t willing to share positions for fear of retribution from those who don’t agree while “others are willing to take a stand, even when they know they risk losing followers and maybe even those relationships.” And Burns isn’t totally convinced that the never-Kaepernicks have had a change of heart.

“In this political climate, many people, particularly older demographics, have already committed themselves to a position on a range of topics and, if they hold a strong position, will generally ignore any information that contradicts that position,” Burns added. “Therefore, they will be less likely to move away from their current opinion on a matter and even if they somehow do, probably unwilling to express their change of heart publicly.”

OK, so maybe the change happens elsewhere.

Scott Elliott, who’s been a voice of unity on community radio station WMNF 88.5-FM for 14 years, told CL that, through private conversations, he’s been able to open a few friends’ ears to the Jim Crow policies that’ve never gone away. He doesn’t condone violence or looting, and believes that some of it was probably provoked by alt-right agitators, but lauded the progress of New York’s potential “Amy Cooper” bill against false reporting of a crime and the re-examination of police force, that wouldn’t have been possible without the actions of protestors. The way Elliott speaks up for the voices of Black Americans like himself is by boycotting companies who donate to candidates who stoke the fires of hatred. He believes it’s possible for people to have a real change of heart, but thinks they should take it to the next level and vote for candidates who support policies that improve the lives of Black Americans.

“Make your actions show for it when you go to vote in national and local elections,” Elliott said. But voter decision making is complex, according to Dr. Mary R. Anderson, a professor in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at University of Tampa.

“I don’t know if new BLM sympathizers will become party switchers in the 2020 election,” Anderson, told CL. She said there are so many other factors that go into a voting decision, and while Trump’s approval numbers are slipping, that doesn’t mean past supporters won’t back him come November.

“Recognizing Kaepernick was protesting political brutality and not the flag is important, but I don’t know if it will lead to a party switch in 2020,” Anderson said, adding that she doesn’t delve into horse race politics. She does, however, wonder if protesters hitting the streets over the last two weeks will actually show up in November.

“It’s a turnout game. For Democrats to win in November, they don’t need new BLM sympathizers,” Anderson added. “They need those that are already sympathetic to the cause to turn out.”

And even if a new energized flock of activists does win at the ballot box, the country, and Tampa Bay, will still have a lot of work to do if it wants to revamp policies that hold police accountable. Even Tampa Mayor Jane Castor—who’s come under fire as her six years as police chief become a liability when it comes to her ability to earn the trust of protestors—knows it. Last Friday, Castor opened a 35-minute press conference with a simple message: “We hear you.” She alluded to the outrage and stories of those who’ve been victims of racial injustice, and she spoke of the open hearts and minds of peaceful protestors.

“I want everyone to understand that we hear that voice, but we also want that energy to continue on into fixing those systemic issues that have held down the Black and brown community for so long,” Castor said. “It’s not going to be easy. The problems didn’t arise overnight, and they’re not going to be fixed overnight, but if we come together as a community to address those issues and find real solutions, we will be able to lift our entire community up.”

click to enlarge Protestor in Ybor City, Florida on June 8, 2020. - Javier Ortiz
Javier Ortiz
Protestor in Ybor City, Florida on June 8, 2020.

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About The Author

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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