Tallahassee and Kenosha: A Tale of Racism, White Supremacy and Police in Two Cities
Written by Lakey Love and Delilah Pierre
TALLAHASSEE, FL - On August 29th, 2020 in the early evening Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC), Dream Defenders, More than a Name, and other partner organizations took to the streets in protest of police crimes in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Tallahassee, FL and nationwide. These police crimes include the senseless murder of two black Tallahassee residents, Mychael Johnson and Tony McDade in 2020 by Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) officers and the 1996 murder of an unarmed black teenager, George “Lil Nuke” Williams, by TPD Chief Lawrence Revell. This peaceful protest was put together by experienced local organizers and included trained safety marshalls, a medic team, and an organized de-escalation response to hostile counter-protestors and armed police.
After an hour of peaceful protesting a white man entered the crowd as an agitator after shaking hands with police. Within minutes the man pulled out a loaded gun, aiming it directly at protestors. After detaining the gunman, TPD officers turned on the crowd and threatened “use of force” and “arrest” if individuals did not disperse. Less than 24 hours after the incident, TPD placed a statement on Facebook with a surveillance video of the incident stating that the gunman was released without arrest because he was “lawfully defending himself.”
Structural Racism and Violence in Kenosha and Tallahassee
If we look at the parallels between Tallahassee and Kenosha we start to see a pattern.
Police officers who gunned down unarmed black men in both Tallahassee and in Kenosha go completely unpunished. No criminal or disciplinary charges have been filed in either case.
In Tallahassee, body camera footage of the murder of Tony McDade and Mychael Johnson was blocked by the TPD Chief of Police Lawrence Revell and the police union (Police Benevolent Association). In Kenosha, no body camera footage of the shooting of Jacob Blake’s was available, despite a 2017 decision by Kenosha city officials and the local police force to place body cameras on all officers.
In the cases of Tony McDade and Jacob Blake the police union came to the rescue of the officers involved in the shootings.
Tallahassee and Kenosha both experienced an armed backlash of white men aligned with Trump and a contempt for the black lives matter movement..
The media rushed to condemn Black lives matter protesters and the victims of police brutality while giving sometimes even positive coverage of violent and armed white counter-protesters.
The situations parallel each other too closely to be coincidences.
Tallahassee and Kenosha have a few things in common. Both are in states that have a Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBOR). LEOBOR creates state protections for police and correctional officers that makes it nearly impossible to get a criminal, or even disciplinary, conviction for officers for any action – including misuse of force. Second, both reside in states where Stand Your Ground (Florida) or the Castle Doctrine (Wisconsin) exists in a criminal justice system predisposed to racist sentencing and prosecution. In the end, both Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine encourage white privilege and power in the judicial and criminal justice system and uphold the murder of black people and unarmed protesters by armed white aggressors an act of “self defense”.
Both LEOBOR and Stand Your Ground/Castle Doctrine uphold systems of white supremacy and white economic power that enables white domestic terrorism and criminalizes poverty, blackness, and the right to free speech and self-determination. Both laws enable and support police control over black and brown bodies.
TCAC stands in solidarity against white supremacist acts of terror and the judicial, legislative, and criminal justice systems that uphold these systems of power. We stand against TPD and Kenosha police collaboration with white supremacist power in their collusion with armed aggressors at peaceful protests.
Regina Joseph, President of TCAC stated, “We know, if a Trump rally occurred in Tallahassee and we attempted to infiltrate their spaces, that we would face repercussions that could have been deadly.” Joseph, a long time black liberation and working class organizer of Haitian descent, argued, “We dispersed the rally (after threat of arrest and use of force) while also reiterating the importance of staying in the streets. We are not afraid. Even in the face of white supremacist violence, we still fight for justice for all victims of police crimes.”
Part of TCAC’s organizing is aimed at developing a statewide coalition to repeal the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights in 2021 and gain community control of the police through the passage of a City of Tallahassee ordinance to create a freely elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). As a collective, TCAC invites City Commissioners, County Commissioners and the Mayor to endorse CPAC as a platform and create a Civilian Police Accountability Council that:
Elects its members directly by the voters, similar to the Leon County School Board, with one member from each of the police districts within Tallahassee;
Restricts these elected members from receiving campaign funds from anyone outside of their district;
All candidates must be free of attachment to law enforcement and Tallahassee city government and must sign a conflict of interest form stating they have no former, or current, attachment to law enforcement, law enforcement unions, the Police Benevolent Association and/or City of Tallahassee government.
Community members of TCAC have drafted an ordinance that would give this democratically elected Civilian Police Accountability Council the authority to:
Hire and dismiss the Tallahassee Police Department Chief of Police;
Write and determine TPD policy and maintain final authority over TPD policy;
Have the power to compel testimony and witnesses, except where current provisions in the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights excludes it;
Have the power to examine, and act, concerning all claims of police misconduct including, but not exclusive to, inappropriate use of force;
Negotiate the TPD union contract;
Coordinate with the Tallahassee City Commission for TPD budget oversight.
The struggle we face in the streets, City Hall, the state legislature, and in our daily lives fighting against armed and unarmed white supremacist and police terror only strengthens our resolve to move forward. The same police department that murdered Mychael Johnson and Tony McDade allowed an armed agitator to wave a gun at a crowd and walk away. The police department that paralyzed Jacob Blake for life allowed 17 year-old Kyle Rittenhouse to gun down protestors, leaving two dead and one injured.
TCAC demands that the City Commissioners, Mayor John Dailey, and City Manager Reese Goad address us directly and: 1) remove Lawrence Revell immediately, 2) join the call to promote community control of the police by supporting a Civilian Police Accountability Council, 3) stand against the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights and the police union (Police Benevolent Association) that supports and expands LEOBOR at the legislative level, and 4) join us in our demand to State Attorney Jack Campbell to get justice for all police crimes perpetrated by Tallahassee Police Department officers.
Furthermore, the coalition of groups that organized the August 29th protest recognize and stand firmly against the unjust and biased narrative presented against the Black Lives Matter movement in Tallahassee and across the nation. BLM protesters are expected to be totally non-violent while counter-protesters and police are free to use guns, and other weapons, to restrict the movement in the streets. Mainstream news outlets uphold the structure of white supremacy by criminalizing and blaming black victims of police crimes while making white perpetrators of violence against protestors heroes with a legacy of “doing good”. Examples are easy to find, such as, The New York Post and NBC News focusing on a knife in Jacob Blake’s car and Fox News showing murderer and violent insurgent Kyle Rittenhouse removing graffiti. Local Tallahassee and national reporters have painted a picture of Tony McDade as a violent unhinged murderer while refusing to release the name of the man who put five bullets in his back. TCAC and our affiliates refuse to accept these narratives as true or accurate in any way.
We will not back down and will honor the words and actions of our predecessors, the struggle of those who have fought for working class power and black liberation. Despite the fear, trauma, and suffering the attack perpetrated by the far right has sown into the Tallahassee community, TCAC knows there is no option but to continue to struggle for a system that ends the injustices of policing for good.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”- Assata Shakur: Assata: An Autobiography