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ACLU calls Bob Buckhorn’s comments on ‘fringe’ activists ‘needlessly divisive’

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The ACLU is one of the leading groups calling for a civilian police review board in Tampa, and the civil liberties group does not appreciate Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s comments regarding its participation in trying to establish such an agency.

Earlier on Tuesday the mayor spoke out for the first time since last week’s extraordinary City Council meeting, where the board voted to explore giving itself the power to nominate seven members of a nine-member review board, the exact opposite of what Buckhorn’s executive action signed on August 28 dictates.

“I’m not going to permit a board of appointees from the Black Panther Party or any of these other fringe groups that want to do nothing but tear down our community,” Buckhorn said when asked about the call by members of the Council and the community to take the power of naming that agency out of his own hands.

“It is extraordinarily disappointing that Mayor Buckhorn would dismiss any Tampa citizen who showed up at the City Council meeting to express concerns about the current flawed proposal for a civilian review board,” said Joyce Hamilton Henry, ‎director of advocacy at ACLU of Florida, said in a statement sent to SPB this afternoon. “The people who spoke out at the City Council meeting included civil rights organizations, faith leaders, impacted adults and youth, criminal justice experts, and Tampa parents. All of them are concerned that the civilian review panel proposed by the mayor will fail to address the breakdown in trust between police and the public that is jeopardizing public safety in Tampa.”

There were approximately 40 people who spoke at the Council meeting last Thursday, with every single one stating that a civilian review board charged with reviewing cases and issues important to the community should not be all handpicked choices of Mayor Buckhorn. The mayor’s plan allow him to nominate seven of the nine-member panel, as well as the two alternates.

“We urge Mayor Buckhorn to reconsider his needlessly divisive words – and the damage he is doing to the community and his own political reputation,” Hamilton Henry continued in her statement. “Many communities in Florida and across the country debated and adopted increased accountability mechanisms for police without any of the acrimony that the mayor has now sadly introduced into the discussion.

Hamilton Henry went on to say that the mayor’s “tear down the community” line “only drives a larger wedge between the community and the people elected to serve them. Expressing contempt for those who get involved and show up to participate in our democratic institutions is a poor way to restore faith in those institutions.”

Here’s the entire statement from the ACLU’s Joyce Hamilton Henry:

“It is extraordinarily disappointing that Mayor Buckhorn would dismiss any Tampa citizen who showed up at the city council meeting to express concerns about the current flawed proposal for a civilian review board. The people who spoke out at the city council meeting included civil rights organizations, faith leaders, impacted adults and youth, criminal justice experts, and Tampa parents. All of them are concerned that the civilian review panel proposed by the Mayor will fail to address the breakdown in trust between police and the public that is jeopardizing public safety in Tampa.

“We urge Mayor Buckhorn to reconsider his needlessly divisive words – and the damage he is doing to the community and his own political reputation.   Many communities in Florida and across the country debated and adopted increased accountability mechanisms for police without any of the acrimony that the Mayor has now sadly introduced into the discussion.

“Respecting the important role that police perform to protect us and seeking to strengthen the mechanisms for civilian oversight are not mutually exclusive ideas, and dismissing those expressing their concerns as wanting to ‘tear down the community’ only drives a larger wedge between the community and the people elected to serve them. Expressing contempt for those who get involved and show up to participate in our democratic institutions is a poor way to restore faith in those institutions.

“Mayor Buckhorn might find public input inconvenient, but I am very proud of the citizens who showed up last week to express their concerns about the shortcomings of the mayor’s version of a review panel.  They should continue to speak out.

“Hopefully, the mayor and the city council will come to an agreement that there is nothing ‘fringe’ about the need to strengthen the mechanisms for civilian control of law enforcement and ensure that the officers we charge with protecting our community are answerable to that community when something goes wrong.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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