A dispute about the police interacting with communities of color led to a fiery exchange between Tampa City Council District 7 candidates Avis Harrison and Orlando Gudes on Saturday.
The candidates have been asked about the Black Lives Matter movement and the tense relationship between the police and the black community at campaign forums in recent days.
At a candidates forum held at Bible-Based Fellowship Church of Temple Terrace on Saturday, Gudes, who retired from the Tampa Police Department in January after 26 years on the force, said some officers are better prepared to go into all communities, but admitted that there’s a “fear factor” with others.
“I don’t care about no fear factor. If you’re police, you should be able to go into any community and police it properly,” Harrison replied sharply. She said if elected next month to the north Tampa district seat, she would advocate for sensitivity training for the police.
That response clearly bothered Gudes.
When asked later if he would support an amendment to the city charter that could ultimately lead to a more robust police citizens review board, Gudes said he did, but added that he’d prefer to meet with members of the community first to educate them about certain elements which go into policing. He then pivoted to Harrison’s earlier remark.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Harrison, I’ve been a police officer, I’ve almost been killed three or four times,” he said. “So yes, there is a fear factor. It is real. It is really real. When you have an officer that’s never dealt with a real life situation, fear will make you do a lot of things, and that’s why you may have seen a lot of killings, because it’s fear, and if you’re afraid of black people, it happens.”
The comment struck a discordant note with parts of the majority black audience.
“Fear? You’re dealing with people’s lives!” Harrison shot back. “Young people. So if you’re scared, go back to -“
“Excuse me,” Gudes interrupted. “I’m telling you why-“
“I’m telling you!” Harrison responded, ending the exchange.
Earlier in the conversation and at a candidates forum the day before, Harrison had provided some insight on her strong stance when it comes to educating police officers about citizens who may suffer from mental illness and having the training to deal with those citizens. It had to do with concerns about your son, an Iraq war veteran who now suffers from post traumatic syndrome.
Referring to how she lost her husband to cancer last year, Harrison said, “I don’t want to lose my baby,” before alluding to an incident he had at one time with the police. However, when confronted by a reporter after she left the dais, she said she didn’t want to talk further about it (Later on Saturday, Harrison said she felt bad about the interaction and said that she would contact Gudes to apologize).
The question about the citizens review board came from activist Jarvis El-Amin, who said he simply wanted a yes or no response to his question about whether the candidates supported a stronger citizens review board with subpoena power. Both Harrison and Gene Siudut said they did, while Luis Veira refused to give a one-word response, saying, “We have to wait and see over the year what happens.”
“It’s a yes or no, sir!” replied El-Amin. When Viera refused to elaborate, a frustrated El-Amin walked away from the audience microphone, muttering, “You sound like a politician to me.”