Teen shot by Tampa Police leaves witnesses outraged listen07/23/12 Janelle Irwin
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An African-American teenage boy was shot and killed by two Tampa Police officers Sunday night in Tampa Heights. Police reports say sixteen-year-old Javon Neal was armed with a gun, but some witnesses are disputing that claim. Today some activists called on the community to demand justice for the slain boy. Life Malcolm said residents of predominantly black communities should think twice before calling the police for help.
“Because their way of solving our problems is leaving one of our children dead. That’s what they do every time they come into our community. So, you’re absolutely right, they say they responded to a call but right now we’re here educating our people to stop talking to the police, stop calling the police because every time they come to our neighborhood we lose something, either our property, our freedom, or in last night’s case, our life.”
Malcolm, who is a member of the Black People’s Advancement and Defense Organization, led a group of five activists in a heated speech about just how much trouble increased police presence is in low-income areas during a protest in front of the front of Tampa Police’s District Three office.
He said there isn’t anything that can be done to help Javon Neal, the teenager who was shot by police. Instead Malcolm said it’s a wake up call to the black community that something needs to change.
“Out with police occupation and in with economic development, that’s what we want. No police. Economic Development. So that’s a specific concern because if the police were not always in our neighborhood – we live like they did in Nazi Germany. We have police around us all the time. If you look like you have a wallet in your hand or a cell phone in your hand you might get shot. If you turn around too fast, you might get shot. If you don’t turn around fast enough, you might get shot. If you stay in the car, you might get shot. So, we want the end of police occupation and we want to see some economic development.”
The fatal shooting occurred after a citizen called the Tampa Police Department to report gunfire. According to Laura McElroy, spokesperson for the department, it was the fourth time police responded to the Central Court Apartments in Tampa Heights that day. McElroy said police were investigating a possible shooting and when they arrived at the apartment complex, officers found Javon Neal, who fit the description of the suspect from the previous incident. She said the officers gave orders for him to stop, but he continued to flee. McElroy said according to police reports, Neal removed a pistol-grip shotgun from his pants and pointed it at the officers. That’s when they fired.
“The bottom line is this is a very dangerous assault-style weapon. It absolutely has no business being in the hands of a teenager. And that really is the crux of the tragedy of this shooting, that a teenager was armed with such a menacing assault-style rifle. Not only was he armed with it, but he pointed it at two police officers who, if they had not fired, would probably not be with us today.”
But witnesses at the scene don’t remember it that way. Kemon Ford, Neal’s 12-year-old brother witnessed the shooting. He said everything happened too fast, but he never saw a gun.
“So then they got upstairs and then he looked backed and saw them and then they was doing at him like this with the gun then he put his hands up. Then they got up there and then they had shot him.”
Horrett Traban is one of Neal’s closest friends. He watched the horror unfold as police arrived and said their accounts of the incident just don’t match up.
“He was standing in the parking lot with me and my family because somebody else had shot a pistol right down the street. So, he was like ‘let me get in the house before they go…’ But I ain’t think he was going to go in the house, so I’m talking to my cousin. When I turn around, when they say ‘there go the police’, I’m looking around and he gone. He already gone. And if he was already gone he could have made it into the house if he was running.”
Some witnesses said they saw Neal place his hands over his head, but other witnesses have said that was someone else. Others questioned why the gun was found on the ground and not on the third floor where Neal was shot. Tampa Police’s McElroy said that just proves that Neal pointed the gun at officers because he would have had to have been holding the gun above the four-foot tall guard rail. Michele Williams, a member of the New Black Panther Party, an activist group, said there is a way to clear up the inconsistencies.
“In the apartment complex there are two video cameras in every stairwell. So it caught everything that transpired in Central Court Apartments last night and that’s what I’m asking. I’m asking that they do something about this and I’m asking that they reveal that tape to us.”
McElroy, spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department said she would not release that evidence but it has been turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as part of the ongoing investigation.
“We have a sixteen year old who has been killed so this is a very serious investigation and that, all that video if there is any that actually captures the shooting or any portion of it would be part of that. So, it’s going to be a very thorough investigation. I can’t say exactly how long it will take.”
Police said the two officers involved were Shannon Murphy and Gregory Pryor. Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation which police say is standard procedure. Michele Williams from the New Black Panther Party wants justice for Javon Neal’s shooting not just because she thinks officers were wrong about him, but because of how they handled it afterward.
“I physically see white police officers high-fiving one another. That disturbed me. It’s already surfacing on YouTube and Facebook right now that the police were high-fiving one another – we got him.”
Javon Neal’s mother, Kethessa Fordoms, lives in the apartment complex where the shooting occurred. She said she had asked Neal to stay inside because there had been gunshots earlier in the day, but she eventually let her guard down. Fordoms choked back tears as she described her son as just a boy. According to her, he wasn’t running from police officers, he was playing a game with some friends.
“He had never been in trouble, he never started trouble. He mainly stayed to his self. And he was playing with someone inside the complex and the whole time the cops thought that he was running from them and that wasn’t the case. He was playing and they just gunned my son down for no reason.”
Following the small protest in front of Tampa Police’s district three office, about 40 people gathered at the Central Court Apartments for another demonstration. At one point, two individuals began arguing about the incident. One of the unidentified individuals was accusing the other of being the person who actually had a gun and blamed him for Javon Neal’s shooting. No one would comment on the argument.
A candlelight vigil will be held at the Central Court Apartments tonight at 6:30 p.m.