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Courts / Law

NAACP Applauds Tampa Citizens Review Board Changes, Questions Slow Reform

A woman in a yellow shirt stands in front of a podium bearing the NAACP seal, and with press microphones positioned in front of her.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
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Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough Branch of the NAACP, is tired of how slowly police reform has been locally after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of of Minneapolis police last year.

City council members last Thursday passed an ordinance that would change the way Tampa’s Citizen Review Board appoints its members, but advocates are tired of how slowly police reform is happening.

It’s been one year since George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. In Tampa, justice advocates and police both agree that reform has moved slowly.

Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough branch of the NAACP, said she’s tired of waiting for change.

“We want accountability, we want transparency, we want the community to feel trust, we want our community to feel comfortable,” Lewis said after a press conference Monday. “We’re trying to give a voice to the community.”

City council members last Thursday passed an ordinance that would change the way Tampa’s Citizen Review Board appoints its members.

The board investigates resident complaints about the city’s Police Department. Since its 2015 creation, activists have often described it as "toothless" and ineffective.

Under the new ordinance, Mayor Jane Castor, who was once Chief of the Tampa Police, would have less power over the board. Seven appointments would come from the council, three from the mayor, and one from the NAACP.

As it stands today, five members and two alternates are appointed by the mayor and four members are appointed by the city council. Castor had wanted a 5-5-1 split, with the 11th board member being someone from the NAACP appointed by the council.

The ordinance is largely a continuation of a fight over legislative power that the council and Castor have been engaged in since last May.

"It has taken a year. It has taken too long," Lewis said. "Justice delayed is justice denied. It should not have to go this far, it is time."

Lewis also expressed confusion about a press conference Castor held with Police Chief Brian Dugan following Thursday's City Council meeting.

After months of conversation with community advocates "at the table," Lewis said it felt strange that Castor would pivot and exclude representatives after the council reached a decision.

“Honestly, the Mayor should be out here standing with us and say ‘Hey, we’re going to do this together.’ Why is she holding a press conference on her own? Why isn’t she with us, standing together, saying ‘We are here together. We are Tampa?'”

A man stands at a podium with a NAACP sign and several mics positioned in front of him.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Julius Adams, a Tampa attorney who works with the ACLU, speaks at a press conference Monday, May 24 in front of Tampa City Hall about changes to the Citizen's Review Board.

Julius Adams, a Tampa attorney who works with the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s largely about control.

“I'm not going to say it’s straight out racism. I'm going to assume that the mayor is honorable. I'm going to assume that the city attorney are all honorable people, and that's there's not that going on," Adams said.

"But I would say there may be an issue of control. There is an issue of control of trying to keep it the way it was when we're trying to progress from that and make things a little bit better.”

Adams said, as a former law enforcement officer himself, he and members and supporters of the review board are not out to harass the police, or make it tougher to do their jobs.

“I know that the police do a very, very tough job. I respect the police. There are good police officers. But you know, we just need more accountability. And we need to give the people a seat at the table that hadn't had one before... with the other (board).”

Other cities across the state, like Gainesville, Fort Myers, and Miami, have already implemented similar changes to their police accountability process.

The council is scheduled to make a final decision on the ordinance June 17, but Castor could still veto it.

“We have suffered so long in this city and have got nothing. And we've asked over and over and got nothing. And then when you decide to give us something, you feed us what you want us to have, instead of coming to the people, taking us way back to the days of Jim Crow and slavery,” Lewis said.

Her words for Castor before the final vote?

“I'm going to tell you what's best for you instead of you telling me what’s best. I know what I want to eat. Sit at the table and have a conversation and be open minded and be truthful about it.”

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