East Tampa residents critical of police response to killings of two officers
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08/03/10 Kelly Benjamin
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Johnson and Kenneth Court


photo by Kelly Benjamin

After two Tampa Police officers were killed in East Tampa in June, police began a several-day manhunt for the alleged shooter, Dontae Morris. But weeks after Morris turned himself in, residents of the community are still concerned about how the police acted during the search. About two dozen gathered at the College Hill library to share their experiences.

The meeting was called by the Black People's Advancement and Defense Organization, a local group created earlier this year with the mission of protecting and defending black people in Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa. Life Turner is a local poet, activist, and founder of the organization:

"The Black People's Advancement and Defense Organization was put together in March of this year with the mission of organizing, educating, and mobilizing black people to defend black people in Hillsborough County from every aggression of the state by any means necessary."

The group is particularly critical of the way in which residents of the Johnson and Kenneth Court apartment complex were treated during the manhunt for accused police killer Dontae Morris. Community activist Connie Burton is a resident of Johnson and Kenneth Court and witnessed what she considers to be heavy-handed tactics on the part of the Tampa police department.

"Boom, boom, boom, running! get in the house! shut up! I mean, what's goin on? We are not all Dontae Morris!"

Since the manhunt, the apartment complex has changed owners, off duty police officers patrol the grounds, and new rules have gone into effect that have resulted in the several dozen eviction notices. Again Connie Burton:

"You know, since that occurred, we have been seeing them continue on this containment of the community by having uniformed police officers, people not being allowed to come out, gather, talk to their neighbors, all of this is being deemed a violation, loitering. You live in the community under the lease, you want to talk to your neighbors, they want to keep you in your apartment and the reason is they want to keep us under control as if we were all Dontae Morris."

Rona Charlton is another resident of Johnson and Kenneth Apartments. She was recently given an eviction notice by the new management after she claims she attempted to diffuse a neighbor’s argument. She says the entire community is being punished for the alleged crimes of Dontae Morris.

"Even for the residents, head of households, if we walk across the street, 'excuse me ma'am, what is your name? can I have your ID?' They run our name. You know? Even for our guests who come to the gate, we have to meet them at the gate, meet them at the cars, escort them to the cars when they leave, I don't feel that that is right either. I feel we might as well be in jail if that's the case along with Dontae. That's the way they treat us."

Dontae Morris has also been charged in the death of 18-year-old Derek Anderson, a young father from Johnson and Kenneth Court. Connie Burton would like to see an effort on the part of the police department to reach out to residents who have also been traumatized by a murder in their community.

"On top of this heavy military occupation on the property, not one person has stepped to the community to develop any type of community relation with us. Nobody. The police have not called the meetingThe only meeting we've had since then is where they told us that some of us would not survive with the new management team as they renovate these buildings."

However, Tampa Police spokesperson Laura McElroy says there have been attempts to reach out to the community in the wake of the Dontae Morris manhunt and they have found no validity to the complaints.

"No, we don't believe there is any validity to that. When we heard it initially we responded very aggressively. We met with East Tampa leaders, we met with the African-American newspaper and went on an African-American radio station with a prominent show with an open call-in so people could call in and talk to the Chief. She publicized the number. We aggressively went out into the African American community trying to find out specifics of anything that needed to be investigated but we have now determined that there appears that there wasn't any because noone has come forward. We set it up so that they could call in anonymously and still we haven't gotten a single call so I think that that speaks volumes that, yes it was a very traumatizing time for our entire city and certainly for residents of Johnson and Kenneth Court apartment complex, but there was no wrong doing on the behalf of Tampa Police officers. They were looking for a cold blooded killer and everything that was done was to keep our community safe."

Despite this, Dr. Carl Warren, who was a witness to police actions in Kenneth and Johnson Court says that police acted poorly towards the community during the manhunt and that people's rights were violated.

"I think their behavior was reprehensible. You can quote me on this, the way that the mayor and the Chief of Police handled the overall situation, if I had to give them a grade, I would give them a C-, if not a D. I think it was over-reactive. I think the police department violated the constitutional rights of black citizens. I think that the attitude was such that it was very seditional. Despite all of it, it does not justify the aggression and the hostility that the law enforcement officers were allowed to engage in and then defended and justified by the mayor and chief of police. It was wrong, it was wrong, and it was just absolutely wrong."

Life Turner of the Black People's Advancement and Defense Organization feels that the police department has failed the black community and would like to see the police take a radically different path.

"They just need to pull out of the black community. Pull out, discontinue the ongoing military occupation of black communities and give black people the space and economic resources to take care of our community."

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Comments

Doesn't sound to me like no one's coming forward

Chief of police states no one came forward. Sounds to me like Ms. Burton is coming forward. Is it too late now or something? Are her concerns no longer valid because she didn't hear about the chief's call-in show? Not sure if I can support all of what Mr. Turner says, primarily because he doesn't appear from this article to have the support of his entire community. He wants the police out, Ms. Burton wants community outreach. Can't have both. Interesting also the current police presence in E. Tampa considering the historically poor police response time in that part of the city.

Rev. Dr.

I have to wonder why the Police don't seem to understand why the African American Community. Routinely, Black people, poor people, and the homeless are brutalized and harassed by the Police Force. Why is that when someone poor or black dies there is no outcry in the white community, no fundraisers, no nothing??? But, when a cop dies everyone rallies. I am visiting in Philadelphia right now and when Police are corrupt it comes out, when Police sell drugs it comes out, but in the Tampa Bay area, it is rare when that happens, event though comes do and sell drugs, extort people, shake them down, kill young black people, and harass poor and black people. WHY IS THIS???

person

I think that was an excellent job reporting this issue. I believe Ms. McElroy thinks the police department did everything they could to reach out but, as the previous commenter pointed out, it doesn't mean all complaints are no longer valid. One could easily get the sense of the police department's handling of the case by reading the papers. They were strongly endorsing an aggressive approach to the manhunt and a feeling of, "we're going to do whatever we can to bring him to justice." While I'm happy Mr. Morris has been caught, I think the police department encouraged it's officers to violate civil rights and probably break the law in pursuit of Mr. Morris. Thanks to WMNF for addressing this issue.

Happens far too often

Stellar work.. Content and execution. Stories like this Perfectly illustrate the fractured society we live in. There are like 20 different USA's and the media ignores about 18 of them. This is a tricky subject though. Balancing the need for security with the rights if the individual is an age old conflict. The only way to combat that fact is to shine a light on the egregiousness of the tactics until shame kicks in. Just as you have done in this story.

boo hoo hoo

oh boo hoo. Cry me a river. What will they complain about next? This free, tax payer supported air conditoning is too cold!

wher be my free cellphone dammit!

my ac is stuk on 70 degres so dont say iii am gettin ova.now giv me mycellphone!

hv

While the search was going on all I'd hear about when I turned on the radio, saw a newspaper or watched the local news was the tragedy of two police officers being killed and the hunt was on to find the cold-blooded killer. I couldn't escape this for what was it? Two weeks or so? Well, up until they caught Dontae and after the funeral this is ALL I'd hear about. It made me wonder. I thought to myself that yes, it's terrible when anyone is killed for an unjustifiable reason, but what makes these cops an exception to when anyone else gets murdered? They were an exception, right? I mean, that's what the media was telling us by going on and on non-stop talking about the incident. I understand part of that was to remind us to be on the look out or hand over any info. we may have that'd assist in finding Dontae, but there was still something off, something off balance about all the reporting. Here's where I felt the reporting was off and one sided: My guess that why it was such a big deal that police officers were killed is because they're supposed to be invincible, but this incident proved they're not and HOW DARE someone kill a cop! BUT what about when cops have killed civilians? Do we hear about in the news in the same way we heard about this incident? Is it even seen that way that a cop unjustifiably killed a civilian(s)? If the media doesn't go on and on... about it then it's just another one dead, no harm done because this persons life just isn't as valuable as a cop's. The cops, the law and even media would, in other forms, say that they probably deserved it. As BPADO has testified about the police treatment of the folks at Johnson and Kenneth Court throughout the investigation, and I'm sure could speak to other injustices on behalf of police officers, this is rarely reported on and lays claim to what general society believes who is superior or inferior. Who matters over another. This is why I'm glad this story was written. It shows us another side of the story that failed to be reported on. And that other side usually tends to be swept under the rug and forgotten- told it/ they don't matter. Thanks WMNF for reminding folks that these issues and people do matter and their voices are worth hearing!!! P.S. I'm fond of the idea BPADO has: "They just need to pull out of the black community. Pull out, discontinue the ongoing military occupation of black communities and give black people the space and economic resources to take care of our community." I think if managed well and by the people of the community this could be achieved and I'd be excited to see this happen. Thank you.

comment

This story was needed. Thank you, Kelly.

Just Say the Word and We're Gone

When we pull the police presence out of "black communities", can we take welfare, federal assistance, section 8, food stamps, free cell phones, vouchers, free breakfasts at school, and around the clock fire and police service with us? If so, just say the word.

Good story but ...

Doesn't this Black People's Advancement and Defense Organization sound like the Uruhus?