Changes in How Tampa Bay Responds to Crisis One Year After The Murder Of George Floyd

Photo credit: McKenna Schueler, June 2020, Tampa, Florida

Last year, Tampa Bay collectively witnessed a global health crisis, and the beginnings of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Millions of Floridians filed for unemployment, as residents grappled for financial assistance.

With over 7,000 dead from COVID-19 across the Tampa Bay region, local residents saw an increased demand for food assistance, calls for rent relief, and a sharp rise in drug overdose deaths across the state—as the nation faces what’s predicted to be the deadliest year in U.S. drug use on record.

One year ago to the month, Tampa Bay also saw a national breaking point in the culmination of police violence and systemic racism in the United States, critically generated by the murder of 46-year-old George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, suffocating him, on May 25, 2020.

The death of Floyd—a son, brother, and father—shook the Tampa Bay community and the nation—not because it represented an isolated incident of violence by a police officer, but because it became a rallying call for justice and a teachable moment about race, class, and policing during a period of immense grief, uncertainty, and isolation.

Within days of George Floyd’s death, demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement emerged across Tampa Bay, from St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue to the streets of downtown Tampa.

Local community members came out in the hundreds—and nearly 2,000 one blazing, June afternoon—in solidarity with Minneapolis residents to demand justice for George Floyd, justice for Black lives, and an end to police brutality. 

New and seasoned activists mobilized around impassioned demands for change, as calls for justice evolved into specific, localized demands for city officials: To defund the Tampa and St. Pete Police Departments, and to reallocate those funds towards community and social services.

To require that law enforcement officers—not taxpayers—be liable for paying out police misconduct settlements, which from 2006 to 2011, totaled nearly $4 million for suits filed against the Tampa Police Department alone.

And to establish civilian crisis response teams, unaffiliated with local law enforcement, that would have trained clinical workers respond to nonviolent emergency calls in the community, instead of police.

Read my latest for Creative Loafing Tampa Bay to learn more about how St. Petersburg, Florida made the move to begin sending social workers, not cops, to respond to nonviolent crisis calls in the community, and what activists believe it will take to bring justice to Tampa Bay’s Black, brown, and poor communities.

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