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Times’ editorial compares targeted bike citations to homicides in Tampa

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times is not backing down on its investigative report showing Tampa Police actively target individuals for minor bike thefts. The report uncovered citations issued to bike rule-violators overwhelmingly went to minority riders in low-income areas.

The report documented personal stories from people in communities like East Tampa and West Tampa near North Boulevard Homes. One person had his bike confiscated because he couldn’t produce a receipt showing he had purchased it.

I don’t ride my bike with the receipt in hand.

Another man had his driver’s license suspended for unpaid bike citations from before he was old enough to drive.

So the Times sent reporters to affluent white neighborhoods. They witnessed several rule breakers cycling along without interference.

Now, halfway through 2015, homicides in Tampa have doubled over the same period last year.

In a short editorial Wednesday, the Times showed a map of Tampa with yellow markers indicating where bike citations were issued and red markers for homicides.

The majority of the yellow markers are concentrated in general areas – East and West Tampa. The red markers fall, mostly, in areas where there are particularly high concentrations of bike citations.

“If harassing bicyclists in low-income Tampa neighborhoods is aimed at preventing serious crime, it’s not working,” the editorial reads.

As the Times’ editorial board points out, police are now asking for help solving murders in neighborhoods where they have an established history of harassing bike riders.

This comes as police are struggling to find witnesses to speak up in the shooting death of 14-year-old Edward Harris. It’s widely believed that residents in rough neighborhoods are often afraid to “snitch” for fear of being targeted by those who would do them harm.

But there’s also an issue of trust between residents who feel targeted by police instead of protected by them.

It also doesn’t help when even the city’s mayor seems detached from the realities facing poor, minority communities daily. In a statement following Harris’s death, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn seemed to place blame on the shooting on Harris, rather than the shooter.

There’s now a petition circulating calling on his public apology.

The Times’ continued emphasis on this issue is an example of what’s right with news media. The original investigation was groundbreaking and made huge waves throughout the community.

Yet Mayor Buckhorn and Tampa PD brass have refused to curb the policy. The Times is now calling on them to reconsider. One can only hope the paper once considered one of the top news organizations in the nation still has the power to influence change by shining a light on injustice.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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