Residents turn out to start plan for Tallahassee police reform
Although he didn’t have to, Brian Wyatt stood in front a sparse audience at the Enrichment Center and pronounced himself a Black man.
“I’m scared for myself,” Wyatt said. “I’m scared for my children.”
Later on in a highly emotional presentation, he questioned why police officers have to “bring a baton and a gun” into Black communities.
Wyatt and nearly 40 others were there last Saturday morning to offer suggestions on how to start a movement to getting police reform in Tallahassee. He suggested that concentrating on perspective, presence and purpose could be a starting point.
Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor, who hosted the Saturday morning event with City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, said he hopes the outcome leads to a plan for police reform that could become a national model. Since the Memorial Day killing of Gorge Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, protesters around the country have been calling for police reform.
Quincy Griffin, pastor at Family Worship and Praise Center, suggested that transparency by TPD could be a starting point for laying out a police reform plan. He asked that TPD put their tactics in writing and present it to the public.
“There has to be something on the table that we can look at that we can read and say this is tangible,” Griffin said. “I know this is hard because we don’t have trust right now but I know at least this will be a first step.”
The call for police reform intensified in recent weeks because of other high-profile police-involved killing of Black men. The most recent shooting of Rayshard Brooks by former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe.
Led by the Black Caucus, Democrats in Congress have proposed a police reform bill, while Republicans have been pushing for their own version of law enforcement reform.
However, both Proctor and Matlow said the solution could come down to states and municipalities creating their own reform.
“It’s got to be,” Matlow said. “I don’t think there is a top-down approach. It’s people of our community and employees of our city government and we are all working in tandem. I don’t think the federal government can do anything to prevent some of the tragedies that we have seen if there is not local accountability.”
Protesters have been calling for creation of a Civilian Police Accountability Council in Tallahassee. That call came on the heels of the City Commission’s approval of a Citizen’s Review Board, but protesters have expressed preference for the CPAC because it would have power to hire and fire the police chief.
Proctor said additional meeting will be held to create a concept of what people want police reform to look like.
“Coast to coast, from sea to shining sea there is a universal cry,” Proctor said. “We want to make sure that our voices are captured to make a difference.
“I think we have a chance to put forward the nation’s top model and there is no reason, with the expertise that this community has by way of FAMU, FSU… We just ought to be there.”
In addition to the police-involved shootings around the country, Tallahassee has had its own. They include three in the span of a month, the most recent being the shooing of NaTosha “Tony” McDade.
McDade, a suspect in the stabbing death of Malik Jackson in the Bond community, was shot by a TPD officer. More than one speaker questioned why unlike other similar cases around the country, the TPD officer’s name hasn’t been disclosed.
That infuriated Stanley Sims, a local activist and preacher. He insisted that it will take citizen’s action to bring about reform.
“This is an America problem and we have the power,” Sims said.
In almost all of the cases, the officers involved are White and the victims are Black. That prompted Bill Davis, a White man, to place racism at the core of police-involved killings.
“Racism is the moral sin of America,” Davis said. “It’s killing us. This community, the Black community, is dealing with pain.”
Whitfield Leland said he knows that pain too well, having been the victim of police brutality.
“I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the gun,” Leland said, while calling for chief Lawrence Revell’s ouster. “Until there is some accountability, brothers like me are going to be on the other side of the gun.
“We need to look at policing but we need to look at how it became policy.”
One familiar suggestion – that of consolidation of TPD and Leon County Sheriff – was brought up by Kenneth Barber as a resolution. Meanwhile, he said plans for a citizen advisory committee that Revell suggested, need to be expedited.
“If we are going to do this,” he said, “let’s move it and do it quickly.”
Proctor suggested that even if the city or county commission comes up with some kind of reform, the best ideas could come from people like the ones who attended Saturday’s forum.
“There is nothing that stops the people from compiling and coming up with a composite of what looks like police reform for the 21st century,” he said. “We hope to publish a report or a manual to this community of what we believe reflects the tone, the conduct, the spirit as well as the actuality of rights of what people know they can ask for.”