TAMPA, Fla — Several Hillsborough County black elected leaders are calling on Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan to "end the wrongful practice of the use of force during otherwise peaceful protests immediately."
The call comes after three recent reports of unprovoked use of force by the Tampa Police Department, according to the leaders.
Leaders cited the following incidents:
- May 30: When the police department reportedly used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters at Cyrus Greene Park.
- June 1: When the leaders alleged the police department used force against an unarmed black man on Tampa General Hospital grounds, unrelated to a protest. The Tampa Police Department said two officers were placed on administrative duty with pay while an investigation is ongoing.
- June 2: When the police department reportedly used "aggressive and dehumanizing tactics" to disperse protesters on a separate occasion
" Let us be clear: we strongly condemn the use of force of violence by law enforcement against any protestor who peacefully exercises their rights to the freedom of assembly and expression," leaders wrote." We also condemn the use of force or violence by law enforcement against unarmed individuals whose only crime appears to be living while black."
But, Dugan counters the leaders' account of events on May 30 and June 2 saying the police department has never deployed tear gas or rubber bullets.
"For the past 6 days, Tampa Police officers have worked tirelessly to provide an environment for our community members to have their voices heard. During that time, we also witnessed these peaceful protests become hijacked by people who are not here to honor the memory of George Floyd but instead cause chaos in the city.
"Let us be clear, we have never deployed tear gas or rubber bullets. We will continue to work with peaceful demonstrators to make sure their rights are respected, as we have done in years past.
"Throwing rocks, water bottles, mortars and weapons at our officers is not peaceful and endangers not only their lives but also the innocent people around them," Dugan wrote in a statement to 10 Tampa Bay.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor also responded to the claims saying that emotions are understandably very raw over the "murder of George Floyd." Sharing that she is listening to protestors in search of identifying sustainable solutions to the systemic problems plaguing people of color.
Castor also gave the community her word, saying the allegations by local leaders will be thoroughly investigated.
"Tampa Police officers have a track record of creating a safe platform for peaceful protestors [sic] in a professional manner while protecting our community from violence and destructive behavior. We also have a duty to hold our department to the highest standards. The community has my word that each of the mentioned allegations will be thoroughly investigated."
You can read her full statement below:
In addition to denouncing the actions of police, the leaders are asking for an account of the officer's actions, a report on any corrective action taken, an explanation, and for those involved in the reported TGH incident to be relieved of duty until a conduct investigation is completed.
"It is time for a new era of common-sense reforms to ensure greater transparency in policing and stronger limits on the use of force," leaders wrote.
The elected leaders who issued the statement include: Senator Daryl Rouson, Representative Dianne Hart, Representative Fentrice Driskell, Representative Wengay "Newt" Newton, County Commissioner Lesley "Les" Miller, Tampa City Councilman Orlando Gudes and School Board Member Tamara Shamburger.
10 Tampa Bay has reached out to TGH for comment.
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