Tallahassee community stops plan to build new police headquarters on the Southside
‘Done deal’ undone
Tallahassee, FL – A ‘done deal’ was undone February 20 after months of sustained resistance spearheaded by members of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC).
Last year, the city council tried to slip a $60 million police headquarters into a mostly Black, low-income Southside ‘Weed and Seed’ zone, an area where targeted federal funds incentivize local police to conduct high rates of low-level arrests, further criminalizing underserved communities.
City leaders quietly extracted just enough support from a few real estate agents, multi-property landlords and grant-thirsty heads of neighborhood associations to give the appearance of popular support – but left most Southside residents unaware that the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) headquarters was even on its way to our neighborhood.
The city was already in the negotiations phase to purchase the intended property when County Commissioner and FAMU Political Science Professor Bill Proctor hosted a Community Conversation on the topic, October 22, 2018, correctly suspecting that people “weren’t opposed” because people didn’t know.
At that county-hosted Community Conversation, a longtime city commissioner and friend to the Tallahassee Police Department, Curtis Richardson, asserted for 20 minutes at the start of the conversation, that a meeting of this nature was foolish, that resistance was too late; that the plan was already a “done deal.”
Commissioner Richardson was very wrong. In four months’ time he would not only eat his words, but he, himself would come to call a surprise motion to abandon the Southside TPD headquarters relocation plan, and furthermore, apologize.
In those same four months, Tallahassee residents elected a new mayor, voted out three city commissioners, lost a remaining commissioner (Scott Maddox) to FBI Fraud charges, and saw Maddox’s replacement (Elaine Bryant) not voted in by the public, but appointed by the remaining city commissioners.
The makeup of the city council was now four-fifths new, leaving only one holdover: Curtis “It’s a done deal” Richardson from the city council that hatched the plan to put the TPD headquarters in Southside in the first place.
Members of Tallahassee Community Action Committee attended that October 22 Community Conversation last autumn, and every city commission meeting since, including their annual retreat in January. TCAC Organizers demanded a halt to the plan and insisted there be more time for input from the community at large. Every time we showed up to oppose the plan, armed with from-the-heart speeches, brochures, and invitations to attend our regular organizing meetings, more and more people united with us, and more and more people we didn’t know personally showed up and articulated their opposition as well.
In January, unable to deny the growing resistance to their predecessors’ plan, the new city commission voted 3-2 to postpone the selection of an architect until after they had hosted some actual community listening events. At the time, only the Mayor John Dailey and Commissioner Curtis Richardson voted to proceed full steam ahead. Newly-elected Commissioners Jeremy Mattlow, a local pizza restauranteur, and Dianne Williams-Cox, a longtime local agitator for social justice, were joined by newly-appointed Commissioner Elaine Bryant in voting to pause the process.
The city hosted back-to-back town hall meetings this week, Monday at the Senior Center in midtown, across from the existing TPD headquarters, and Tuesday at a Community Center in Southside, just ahead of their city commission meeting on Wednesday, February 20.
Both town halls were packed, and attendees were overwhelmingly against having the TPD headquarters relocate to Southside. Some residents even threatened to run candidates against sitting commissioners in 2020 should they continue to ignore and dismiss community demands.
On February 20, the city commission’s agenda (as per the city’s promise) did not include business concerning the headquarters’ relocation to Southside. However, at the close of the meeting, the proposal’s most ardent public supporter, City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, unexpectedly motioned “to abandon” the Towne South Shopping Plaza as the site for a new TPD headquarters, acknowledging that people don’t trust the police and don’t want them in their neighborhood. And, he apologized for having previously trivialized public input.
City commissioners voted unanimously to abandon the Southside Tallahassee Police Department headquarters proposal, directing City Manager Reese Goad to go out and bring back other possible sites and a new process.
Mayor John Dailey said, after the vote, “We’re going in a new direction,” and Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, a Southside resident herself, stated, “Southside wants economic impact, but not with police leading that impact.”
This is a tremendous win for the people, and a good reminder that elections matter; local elections really matter, and local activism really, really, really matters.
The Tallahassee Community Action Committee, in four months of sustained, democratically-organized resistance, buoyed by a sudden swell of awareness and popular opposition, stopped a “done deal” $60 million police headquarters in its tracks.