Mitch Perry Report – 11.25.14

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Ferguson is literally burning as I write this on Tuesday morning. On CBS’ This Morning, the program began with an aerial shot of an Auto Zone auto parts store on fire. Yes, the community rioted last night after the late-night announcement that the grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked weeks of protests in St. Louis suburb.

If you’ve been following this case closely, you can’t be too surprised that Wilson wasn’t indicted. Reports have floated for months that this might be the case, but the anger felt by Americans around the country, particularly African-Americans, is very real today.

So what can possibly happen next? Another commission like the one that was formed in the ’60s after the riots, or after the civil unrest that broke out in Los Angeles after the police were found not guilty of beating up Rodney King in 1992?

There have been a lot of moments that evolved out of the unrest in Ferguson this summer, such as the intimidating tanks and other war-like equipment that the Ferguson Police Department deployed to attempt to keep the peace. That prompted Rand Paul in August to question the use of federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most Americans think of as law enforcement.

The parents of Michael Brown, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., issued a statement last night, where they urged the public to channel their frustration “in ways that will make a positive change,”and they’re asking the public to join in their campaign to ensure that every police officer “working the streets in this country wears a body camera.”

But the momentum for body cameras does seem very tangible right now. On Morning Joe this morning, both Joe Scarborough and Nicole Wallace said there was no reason why police officers shouldn’t wear them, though of course the cost might be prohibitive for some police departments. Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says a pilot program is in place to outfit 60 police officers with body cameras by the end of 2014, and says she plans to have every officer in the department equipped with cameras by the end of 2015.

And St. Petersburg?

Uh, not so fast there.

Chief Tony Holloway will also begin a pilot program in January, using the body cameras for some members of the St. Pete police force. But the chief still sounds very reluctant to go all in like Castor is, telling ABC 28 recently that he has questions like, “Every time an officer exits a vehicle, will he or she have to turn on their camera? When can and can you not record? Is there an expectation of privacy? These are just some of the questions we are looking at,” he said.

And in that same WFTS report, Michael Krohn, the Police Benevolent Association’s executive director, says, “Our opinion is that it’s been more of an overreaction to the Ferguson shooting. We are against them because we feel that they’re being pushed for the wrong reason.”

But if it stops tragedies like Michael Brown and others like that from happening in the future, isn’t it worth it?

In other news…

Chuck Hagel resigned yesterday as defense secretary, amid reports that the U.S. will not be leaving Afghanistan at the end of the year. And Congresswoman Kathy Castor says she’s OK with that.

Florida is one of a majority of states that says it’s still legal to discriminate against the LGBT community, but a new bill proposed by a Republican House member and Democratic state senator would change that.

The Public Service Commission will review proposals today to severely reduce energy efficiency standards of the major power utilities in the state.

And the Koch Brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity took out an ad in yesterday’s Tampa Bay Times calling on Reps. Vern Buchanan and Gus Bilirakis to oppose wind subsidies when that issue comes back before the House of Representatives.

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.