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Tampa Town Hall Stirs Up Conversations On Race

Daylina Miller/WUSF

Before speaking at a town hall Wednesday night on race relations, Andrew Joseph quietly placed airbrushed signs around the room.

The signs read "Black Lives Matter" and "We need Change." Some had pictures of his son, Andrew Joseph III.

The teenager died crossing Interstate 4 last year after being ejected from the Florida State Fair.

His father, Andrew Joseph II, can’t say for sure what happened at the fair, but what he does know is officers didn’t call him.  

"We're trying to get some justice for the most part, we're trying to get some clarity and make this a transparent situation,” Joseph said.

“Because as it stands right now, my son died in the sheriff chief’s custody. He released him to nobody. No phone calls. This is a vibrant 14-year-old honor roll student in private school that portrayed as a gang member."

Barry Cohen is the lawyer representing Joseph. He organized the town hall meeting, which drew a couple hundred people. 

The town hall meeting at the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center in downtown Tampa was coordinated by lawyer Barry Cohen, sparked by protests in Baltimore following the death of a young black man in police custody.

He told the Tampa Bay Times that the same anger, frustration and hopelessness felt in Baltimore is present locally.

Cohen said he pushed hard because the frustrations that are fueling protests and riots around the country are present here in Hillsborough. He noted the ongoing gun violence in predominantly black neighborhoods where there is little cooperation with police. He noted recent stories in the Tampa Bay Times documenting the disproportionate number of citations Tampa police are issuing to black bicycle riders in the city. "The anger, the frustration, the hopelessness is all present here," he said.

Residents were given the chance to propose solutions to what some says is systemic racism, which they say is to blame for the recent deaths of young black men by police nationwide.

Solutions from the crowd included a better pre-k and elementary school system. Others want better police force training .

Stanley Gray is a Tampa resident, former Marine and business man. He says none of the proposed solutions will work unless black people are better represented in the communities they live in.

Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF
A town hall meeting was called by Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen to discuss systemic racism and race relations locally.

"I would not bring a company to Tampa,” Gray said. “And let me tell you why. We don't have a visible black middle class and we don't have a diverse workforce. And until we do that, this community will not have long-lasting strategic hope."

And, he added, if city officials are serious about discussing race, they'll hold future meetings through the city government and Chamber of Commerce. That way, they'll be required to give advance notice for more residents to attend. 

Cohen said more town hall meetings are planned in the coming months to see if community leaders are putting any of the proposed solutions into place. 

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