After Confederate monument victory, Tampa civil rights leaders say there's still work to do
July 21, 2017
Having a majority of commissioners support its removal is one thing, changing institutionalized racism that seemed to underscore the debate is another.
Wednesday's Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners decision to relocate a controversial Confederate monument currently standing outside a county courthouse annex in downtown Tampa was a big — if largely symbolic — win for civil rights advocates.
But now that that debate is over, they say, it's time for local leaders to roll up their sleeves and engage in concrete efforts to abolish racial inequality.
On Friday, local faith leaders associated with the group Faith in Florida/PICO National Network issued statements calling for Hillsborough County officials to reexamine policies that doom a disproportionate number of African Americans to lives of poverty and incarceration.
“It is time for elected officials to take seriously their responsibility to put families first,” said Nanci Palacios, lead organizer for Faith in Florida, in a written statement. “One way to put families first is to change the culture in Tampa from a punitive, crime-and-punishment model to one that gives families every opportunity to succeed. In Hillsborough County, this means toppling racist monuments.”
In a way, that's already happening. State Attorney Andrew Warren, a Democrat with a progressive philosophy on criminal justice won his seat in 2016, is moving away from a climate where law enforcement throws the book at black youth while letting questionable police practices go.
Rev. James T. Golden, social action director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Florida, said the fact that two commissioners voted to keep the monument in place — commissioners Ken Hagan and Stacy White — is evidence enough that this county has a long way to go on civil rights.
“As a spiritual leader, it’s disappointing that the Hillsborough County Commissioners were not able to unite around such an important moral issue as this. The display of moral ambivalence by the two dissenters is more than ample evidence of the work that needs to be done by PICO National Network through Faith in Florida in this state,” he said.