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A group of Black officers helped reshape law enforcement in Tampa Bay

The "Courageous 12" fought against racist practices within the St. Petersburg Police Department.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — They took an oath to protect and serve, but they say the department they promised to protect did little to protect them.

We're talking about Black officers who looked to the law of the land for justice.

Leon Jackson was among a dozen St. Petersburg police officers who became known as the "Courageous 12." The group fought to change racist practices within the department. Jackson is the last living member.

"I started on Oct. 3, 1963," Jackson. "We could not work in the white neighborhood. We could not arrest whites during that time."

He said police practices at the time were blatantly racist.

"We asked: why we can't get new cars? They said, 'Well, you work in a colored neighborhood,'" Jackson said.

Jackson said inside the department, white colleagues would often ignore them: "A lot of times, those guys used to walk by us and wouldn't even speak."

Jackson said no one spoke to their concerns, not even superior officers.

He wrote about it in his book "Urban Buffalo Soldiers: The Story of St. Petersburg's Courageous Twelve." In it, he explains how the men challenged management, even the chief. Eventually, they interrogated the justice system.

"When you see something unjust, you’ve gotta stand up for what you know is right," Jackson said. "We felt that we should have full authority, just like the white police officers."

They filed a lawsuit in 1965, documenting the insults they endured, their lack of authority and their outdated cars. Enough evidence, they thought, to force change.

"We went to federal court in Tampa and Judge Joseph Lee ruled against us," Jackson said.

But that wasn't the final ruling. In 1968, the NAACP advocated for an appeal, which later was granted in their favor.

It's a courageous act by 12 black men, whose names now live on in history: You can view their photos here.

Right now, a plaque honors them outside the new police headquarters and, soon, a monument will be built at the old site.

Similarly, a group of Black officers in Tampa, nicknamed the "Fearless Four," fought discrimination within their department in the 1970s. A monument honoring them is now on display on the first floor of the Tampa Police Department.

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