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Victory in fight for Tampa Citizens Review Board independence

By Joseph Nohava

The fight is on in Tampa, FL for community control of the police.

Tampa, FL – The Tampa City Council voted 4-3 to pass an ordinance granting the city’s Citizen Review Board (CRB) an independent attorney, April 6. The CRB is a city board that was established in 2015 to review closed cases of police misconduct, as well as be a place where people can bring complaints about the police.

An independent attorney would be more impartial and fair than the current arrangement, where the board uses the city’s attorney. Using the city’s attorney, by its nature, creates a conflict of interest, which the Tampa police attorney himself admitted in a CRB meeting, stating that the CRB, “provides a great service,” to the police, and that, “this has never been set up as an adversarial board.” It’s difficult to imagine the CRB being impartial when they have such a cozy relationship with the police.

The fight to get a CRB has been a long one, beginning in 2015, when then-mayor Bob Buckhorn had to be pressured to even create a board to review the conduct of Tampa Police Department. Even then, Buckhorn had to add in that he didn’t want a board with, “appointees from the Black Panther Party or any of these other fringe groups.”

His successor as mayor, Jane Castor, former TPD police chief herself, echoed that dismissive wording years later, referring to those like the ACLU, the NAACP and Tampa Bay Community Action Committee as “fringe groups” as well.

Jane Castor and her allies on city council have consistently stood in the way of any form of police accountability or transparency. As police chief and mayor, she was responsible for heinous policies and cover-ups. Castor refused to even apologize for the death of Arthur Green, Jr., an African American man who died in 2014 under her tenure as police chief, while being restrained by police as he had a diabetic emergency. She was responsible for  to implementing racist policies that targeted African Americans while they bike, rent or drive.

Mayor Castor’s intentions were obvious when she vetoed the city council’s proposal to allow the city to vote on giving the CRB its own attorney: protect her cop buddies and consolidate her power. Castor intervened to sway the vote of Councilor Guido Maniscalco, who cowardly switched his vote from for to against to appease her and the police union. Castor and TPD have shown time and time again they cannot be trusted to be fair, transparent, or honest. Covering up and lying about TPD’s murder of Jonas Joseph, an African American man shot at over 127 times, a crime to this day which goes unpunished, is proof enough of that.

The April 6 vote is a hard fought victory for police accountability, but as anyone with an interest in protecting their community from police violence knows, it won’t be the final word. A board with the explicit mandate to hire, fire and discipline police, not just review closed cases, as well as control over the police budget, police policy and the police chief, is what’s needed to give communities a real say in how they are policed. A democratically elected board that can hand down actual consequences when police break the law, would serve the people of Tampa. The CRB as it stands now isn’t that, but it’s a step in the right direction, and this independent attorney issue is important both unto itself, as a way for victims of police misconduct and brutality to have better representation, fairness and independence, and as a stepping stone to more accountability.

Mayor Castor has tried to hide the fight for police accountability behind the veil of power struggles between herself and city council, but the people who are suffering from police brutality don’t care who has the power to change city charter, they want and need justice and protection now. As the recent victories in Chicago show, getting there is possible, and will take sustained organization to keep up the fight to make them listen and get what communities need.

#TampaFL #PoliceReviewBoard