Community activists are calling on Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to apologize to the family of a 14-year-old who was gunned down late last month for inappropriate comments he made immediately following the shooting.
Edward Harris was fatally shot in Woodland Terrace Park by an unknown shooter in a passing vehicle. Harris was transported to Tampa General Hospital, where he died from his injury.
Buckhorn responded to the neighborhood to speak with residents in the community. While there, he spoke with a reporter from the Tampa Bay Times.
“These young people, if they want to end up a statistic, either incarcerated or dead, the choice is theirs,” Buckhorn said. “Either get out of the life and find good role models, or you end up in the street in a pool of blood at age 14. That’s the reality.”
The petition on change.org went up in the early morning hours Thursday. It calls for Buckhorn to not only apologize for his statement, but to provide funding to waive the $15 fee for neighborhood kids to use Gwendolyn Miller Community Center.
Following the shooting Buckhorn also explained to the Times that the city had amped up services for youth in low-income neighborhoods in order to keep kids off the streets – especially during idle summer months while they aren’t in school.
Now signers of the petition want Buckhorn to put his money where is mouth is – or, at least his city’s money.
Police have not identified the shooter and they’re not sure what the motive was or even if there was one. What is known, however, is that Harris was involved in at least three criminal investigations as either a witness or a victim.
In a time where residents in crime-plagued neighborhoods are increasingly tight-lipped to police, his cooperation with police – one case led to an arrest – has raised speculation that Harris may have been targeted as a snitch.
Even before the petition went up, comments were already showing up on a column penned by this reporter calling Buckhorn out for his words.
“His statement calls into question his ethics, his world view and beliefs on race,” wrote Jacob Eaton.
Another commenter, Meghan Kreeger Borysova, wrote Buckhorn needs to “go live for a year in a rough East Tampa environment” in order to find some perspective.
As of 6 a.m., the petition had 14 supporters and six comments.
“How clueless, uninformed and insensitive his comments on the dead (sic) of a child,” wrote Carlos Milan.
Russ Dahl wrote, “underprivileged folks need neighborly support.”
Another comment addressed the issue of poverty and the “choice” Buckhorn claimed these youths have.
“As someone who falls under the low-income bracket myself, choosing where I have lived has never been much of a choice,” wrote Tina Brown. “Is his life less valued because of the unfortunate financial circumstances his family was in that caused them to live in a bad neighborhood!!”
Community activist Amos Miers started the petition. He wrote in previous comments on the SaintPetersblog column that Buckhorn “only knows how to serve those who are already well off.”
“This is not the sign of a leader,” he wrote. “The sign of a leader is to understand the plight of their worse off constituents and work tireless to help find solutions.”
Harris was the 18th homicide victim in 2015 — a stark rise over the previous year during the same time frame.