I went to a hot rainy protest that started at the corner of 56th and Fletcher. While taking place outside of Tampa’s city limits, Temple Terrace still fell within the region that all the major sports teams call, Tampa Bay.
At first it was precisely what I would have expected out of Tampa with regards to issues that dealt with racism, institutional violence, and social justice. It felt small and amatuerish, needing to be bolstered by the amplified political atmosphere that a college campus can provide. Within the span of a minute though, we started expanding exponentially and marched our asses right to Temple Terrace’s city hall and police department building, spreading into the street and taking over the traffic. A cursory glance at the mass of people that seemingly spawned out of nowhere like when a video game is done loading was enough to assure anyone there that was happening was indeed real as they cycled through their chants, listening to megaphone wielding organizers list their grievances right outside the building. Unbeknownst to me, the mayor of Tampa, and the city’s police chief were among the mask-wearing protesters, seemingly assimilated by the day’s happenings.
Everyone there, despite being filled with a righteous anger was in good spirits. Free waters and snacks were shared to whoever wanted or needed it. Discourse was exchanged in calm manners unseen out of local coffee shops and dive bars. People could share experiences and thoughts, but all in the confidence that everyone there was a human being, and that black lives needed to be seen with, and treated with that same dignity by institutions that the protesters were all showing to each other.
I was at both times exhilarated and frightened as we walked back, actively taking over the intersection back at Fletcher and 56th. It’s a power trip to walk through completely stopped traffic, and to be totally encouraged by everyone in the cars, like a victory march in a liberated city. They recorded the happenings with their phones cheering us on and exclaiming that “They have everyone here!” Seeing city workers invite more protesters onto the beds of their trucks just to posture, to hold their signs up high and shout from an elevated position, to feel again like they could change the world.
At the the same time though, my head was on a swivel. Police presence is one thing, but memories of what happened in Charlottesville came rushing back into me. The idea that anyone behind those wheels could be a jaded white supremacist with murder on their mind stuck with me. The video of the car plowing protesters was on a constant replay, but I had to remind myself that this was more important than my own safety. This was to make a point that not only would people who abuse their power not be tolerated, but that institutions that allow them to feel comfortable with that abuse will be held accountable.
And the rain started coming down, lowering the temperature, almost like a reward for the morale boost everyone had gotten that day. Late May can still be cconsidered spring-time in places like NYC or Minnesota, but the heat’s already on in Tampa, and like in Do The Right Thing, heat has a habit of ratcheting up the intensity.
Just like in the Spike Lee movie as well, flames went up as the sun found its home in the western sky. While the city of Tampa did a lot with mayoral presence at the rally, the trauma of seeing police brutality all over social media, the fact that most Florida residents were kicked entirely to the curb by their own state with regards to receiving pandemic relief and reemployment assistance, the need for some physical catharsis began overpowering many of the people who stayed late or joined late.
While Tampa as an area has yet to have a national headline making murder at the hands of police brutality in the #BLM-era, this is not about one murder and a regionally affected population. It’s about a disaffected group of people wanting to see authority be held accountable for their own abuses, about generations being held back by laws that deliberately targeted them, about lives that might not have been lost, but that were beyond ruined without the second chance that the hegemony gets to take for granted.
While doing the right thing can be ambiguous, the first step is always to do something.
Go out. Tap fists. Help people, always.
If you have the means please consider donating to the Tampa Bay Community Support fund who are raising funds for those who have had their civil liberties infringed upon by local law enforcement on 5/30 and 5/31 during peaceful Justice for George Floyd Event in Tampa Bay. They are providing relief for both medical expenses and community support for those affected by their civil liberties being deprived. They will use this fund to to offer medical reimbursement and bond reimbursement for individuals whose rights were infringed upon as a result of the protest.