Some of the peaceful protests against police violence in Baltimore in recent weeks have turned violent. But here in Tampa the solidarity rallies have remained peaceful. On Friday evening there was a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration at downtown’s Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Dozens of young adults gathered with signs reading “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “Police Accountability”. One of the protest organizers is Crystal Wilson.
“These series of protests have been to stand in solidarity with Baltimore, and to actually protest against police brutality. But it’s also to highlight some of the issues that are going on here in Tampa. Because Tampa does have all the ingredients to have a Baltimore, to have a Ferguson but no one is really talking about it. For example, the biking while black issue.”
Last month, Tampa Police came under scrutiny for allegedly racially targeting black bicyclists. According to an investigation by The Tampa Bay Times, eight out of ten biking tickets were issued to African-Americans, even though they only make up about a quarter of the city’s population. A protester who refused to be identified says racial profiling is not just an issue in Ferguson, Baltimore, or Tampa.
“I think racial profiling is happening everywhere. I don’t know the numbers. I can’t tell you where it happens most. I can’t tell you where it’s a sport. I can’t tell you any of that but I definitely think that in America, there is a certain type of idea behind who’s a criminal and who is a “thug”. For example, I graduated from the University of South Florida and I still get the text alerts. You know, racial profiling isn’t’ always just ‘we wanna pull over black people,’ things like that, but a general description of a suspect in a case – black male, khaki shorts, and a blue shirt. That can be anybody. There is no further description on height, weight, hair, you know. Anything like that, maybe a limp. Anything, it’s just a black male, blue shirt and khakis. That’s racial profiling.”
This ongoing issue of how the police are treating African-Americans raised a lot of questions and made young people like the organizer, Wilson, fear for her life.
“Each and every day, I personally walk outside of my house in fear. Like, I don’t know when a cop may stop me. I don’t know if he’s having a bad day and he just may need to arrest someone to meet his quota. I don’t know. It’s a very fearful life.”
But one of the protesters, Kalyn King, said based on her experience it’s not just blacks who are getting unpleasant treatments from the police.
“They’re nice to me until they see my license where it says ‘Hispanic’. I don’t look it. I’m pale, but I’m Mexican-American and they’re nice to me ‘til they see that. And then they’re kind of short and pffft to me, I don’t know how you’re gonna spell that. But, they’re just… they lose patience.”
“I don’t feel safe around police. I feel like they’re in a position of power where they can get away with anything.”
For this group of young people, strings of protests like these are just the beginning. They are hoping that as their movement brings people together, it will spark different ideas and actions that would eventually address the issue of racial disparities in policing.