‘Defund The Police’ Has Many Meanings For Tampa’s Black Lives Matter Protesters

Jun 14, 2020

Thousands marched through the streets of South Tampa on Saturday during a Black Lives Matter rally as the protests over the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police entered its third week.

Many in the crowd demanded meaningful change: an end to police brutality, justice for those who have been mistreated and changes to policies that have led to discrimination against minorities. 

But one demand seems to have become a slogan for change: Defund the police.

What that means though, depends on who you ask.

Some go with the literal definition. Others like protester Samar Perez say law enforcement will always be needed in some capacity, but the agencies are given too much money to do a job that too often goes beyond policing.

“When there’s homelessness on the streets, the money should be going to schools, the roads are still not fixed,” Perez said. “Build a library. Do something that’s positive for the community.”

Samar Perez says law enforcement will always be needed in some capacity, but the agencies are given too much money to do a job that too often goes beyond policing.
Credit Julio Ochoa / WUSF Public Media

Saturday was the fifth protest that Perez attended and she carried a sign that read defund the police.

She brought up the $3.14 billion that is spent funding the Los Angeles Police Department as an extreme example of the inflated budgets of law enforcement.

Closer to home, the budget for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office for fiscal year 2020 was $463 million, while the county spent $36 million on affordable housing and $14 million on children’s services.

In Tampa, 62% of the city’s $435.7 millon general fund went to public safety and $162 million of that was spent on the police department. Minority and small business development received less than $1 million.

“I’m paying the police with my taxes,” said Uhzi, a protestor who declined to give her last name. “If you take actions and feel that it’s your choice as to whether my brother or my sister loses their lives, I can’t pay you anymore. Why am I paying my tax money just for you to kill my brother?”

She wants to see more money spent keeping drugs out of black communities. And more investment in those communities, starting with funding for education and mental health.

“As a black person we are given trauma every day,” she said. “We need to work on our foundation.”

Thousands marched through South Tampa on Saturday during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Credit Julio Ochoa / WUSF Public Media

Sherry Clayson said she’s not a fan of the term defund the police but she supports what it stands for. Clayson has attended several protests in Tampa where she volunteers with voter registration.    

“I hate the term they picked because it’s so inflammatory at face value,” Clayson said. “It immediately causes anger amongst people who don’t understand it and most people won’t take the time to understand it.”

To her, defunding the police means using the police for law enforcement duties and not for social services like responding to attempted suicides or drug overdoses. Budgets for law enforcement have grown over the years as other social services that would help minority communities have been defunded, she said.

Michè Wallace said Saturday’s rally was her first and she was surprised that she didn’t see any law enforcement as thousands marched down Bayshore Boulevard and through the restaurant and bar district of South Howard Avenue.

Thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets of South Tampa's trendy South Howard Avenue on Saturday.
Credit Julio Ochoa / WUSF Public Media

Wallace’s mother is a police officer and she believes that most police are good. But there should be changes, she said.

“Similar to teachers, we need to get the good police officers out there and stop giving money to a force that is taking advantage of it,” Wallace said. “But I think to completely defund police and get rid of police, that is ignorant. Because at the end of the day, if I get hurt, guess who I’m going to call? The police.”

This story is produced in partnership with America Amplified, an initiative using community engagement to inform local journalism. It is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.