Pastor's group hopes to keep peace in Tampa Bay

A movement has begun locally to bridge the differences between protesters of shootings and law enforcement.

TAMPA -- If you want to know how the Bay area is reacting to another round of police shootings involving young African-American men, you need only step into the Tampa neighborhood where law enforcement is accused of shooting an unarmed man just three weeks ago.

Community United, a religious-based group, is helping to bridge the divide between law enforcement and those who feel they are being targeted. And their methods may be the difference in how the Bay area deals with such unsettling events.

“People are very receptive,” said Pastor Tom Jones, who leads the coalition of churches.

His organization, Community United, takes a message of faith and fairness out of the church and onto the streets. A model, says Jones, other regions might be wise to follow.

Community United is a liaison of credibility and communication between police agencies, government leaders and some of the area's toughest neighborhoods - and trusted by all parties.

“And when we take both of those and we bridge that gap, that's when you get the truth,” said Jones.

Truth - on both sides of the divide - is key.

Community United brings the community’s concerns directly to those who can affect change, but plenty more.

It also bring the facts – directly from investigators who might not otherwise be believed, to the neighborhoods where tensions are brewing. Snuffing out rumors. Encouraging calm.

“I don't really see that sign is negative," Jones said. "I see that sign as that they care, they're concerned, and there's some pain there. And that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Jones believes it is working.

His group recently helped to defuse tension in Tampa’s Clair-Mel neighborhood.

It was there, three weeks ago, when a Hillsborough Deputy shot and killed Levonia Riggins, a young, unarmed African American drug suspect. The shooting is still under investigation.

With communication established, the flames of conjecture and rumors were kept in check.

“When all of this kicked off, the first thing they said was 'We're not gonna get stupid. We're not gonna get rowdy like the people in Ferguson,'” said Travis Kelly, who participated in the protest that followed Riggins’ shooting. “We're not gonna do that. We're gonna have a peaceful protest.”

Still, deadly police shootings in the past week of two more African-American men have only increased tensions. Rioting in Charlotte. Anger in Tulsa and Clair-Mel.

“It's going to get ugly. I can't say specific words or anything, but it can't keep happening. It can't,” said Alexander Cox, who was also part of the Riggins protests.

Pastor Jones prays it won’t get ugly, not if Community United as anything to say about it, working to keep the lines of communication they’ve created open.

“We give them that voice,” said Pastor Jones. “And that's what's missing in other areas.”

(© 2016 WTSP)


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