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Could Ferguson Happen in the Tampa Bay Area?

Steve Newborn

The recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri that were sparked by the police shooting of a black man have led many communities to reassess how their police departments interact with the community. A forum held Thursday night at the University of South Florida Tampa campus talked about just that.

The discussion was called "Could Ferguson Happen Here." The answer was: well, it has - in the past. In the race riots that haunted Tampa in 1967, and more recently, the St. Petersburg riots in the mid 1990's. Since then, there have been tensions in the black communities over isolated shootings, but nothing approaching what happened in Ferguson.

"Is there a systemic problem? Is there something that leads to what we saw in Ferguson?" asked James Cole, president of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Black Advisory Council. "I don't think we've seen that, and if we continue to not take things for granted, we won't see a problem like that here in Tampa."

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor - who also sat on the panel - says she's been trying to hire more minorities and women to reflect who actually lives here.

"In this community, there's a partnership between the citizens and the police department, and we have built a level of trust where citizens feel comfortable questioning the actions of the police department - which they should do," she said.

Several people in the audience said there have been several highly publicized cases of unarmed black men being killed nationwide, which may be magnified because almost everybody these days seems to carry a phone with a video camera.

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