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Statewide online workshop on community control of Florida police

By Mary Correia

Christina Kittle, founding member of JCAC.

Tallahassee, FL -The Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC) hosted an online training and workshop, July 30, over Facebook Live on the topic of community control of police. The event was led by experienced anti-racism leaders who are active in the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), and also founding members of their local organizations: TCAC and the group that inspired TCAC’s own founding, the Jacksonville Community Action Committee (JCAC).

“NAARPR, JCAC and TCAC all have political repression and police overreach central to their origin stories,” noted Tallahassee Community Action Committee member Satya Stark-Bejnar.

“Founding members of each organization recognized that state repression through law enforcement and the judicial system, while astonishing on a case-by-case basis, can and must be expected systemically, and that durable, organized bodies – that know to expect this – are better suited to respond to cases of repression, violence and overreach as they arise than individuals going it alone, spontaneous, surprised and starting from scratch,” continued Stark-Bejnar.

“Our movement is powerful because of our work with families of victims of police crimes, our work with police torture survivors, and our work to make sure that local police budgets don’t just bloat every year,” said JCAC panelist Michael Sampson, who opened the workshop. In addition to fighting for justice around specific cases of police violence, JCAC and TCAC are educating their communities about just how much money law enforcement gets from their cities, roughly 40% and 30% respectively, of the entire municipal budgets of Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

“They spend a lot of this money on surveillance,” said Christina Kittle, also of the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, who led the second segment of the workshop. “I learned, from my case, and the four others who were beaten and arrested along with me in 2017, that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office had already spent over $17 million to illegally surveil us, build files on us- Before that [physical] attack was even launched!”

Sampson and Kittle’s workshop segments were followed by Tallahassee Community Action Committee panelists Delilah Pierre, Regina Joseph and Lakey Love, educating attendees about the difference between appointed police review boards and elected civilian police accountability councils (CPACs), the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), and introducing community control of police as an umbrella term that has, since the 1970’s included many specific demands that are currently trending around defund police/re-fund communities, and around police training, policy, oversight and accountability.

“I wanted to make sure people understood what community control of police really represented, said panelist Delilah Pierre. “It's more than a simple change in where the police live, or of their tactics. It's more than ‘review,’ and more than the removal of ‘bad apples.’ It's a real movement to change the structure of the police – to put them under the control of a far more democratic process.”

The workshop also focused on building a statewide coalition to tackle these issues, given limits imposed by LEOBoR, a Florida state statute passed in 1973 and strengthened since, which grants special procedures and special rights to police officers, helping them evade criminal conviction for misconduct, brutality and even murder.

At the end of the workshop, panelists fielded questions from viewers: how to become involved in local, statewide and national actions; who are local and state representatives who support CPACs; and how to bring advocates for specific police-related demands into a unified fight for community control of police overall. To expand the reach of the online workshop, the Tallahassee Community Action Committee’s event was co-hosted on Facebook by the Jacksonville Community Action Committee, the South Florida Afro Pride Collective, the Florida Coalition for Trans Liberation, and the Florida Peoples Advocacy Center, resulting in a viewership of over 1900 and growing.

Mary Correia (she/her) is an activist in Tallahassee, Florida.

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