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Tallahassee Police Critics Consider City Charter Amendment

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Demands for more citizen oversight of the Tallahassee Police Department can't happen unless the community's voters change the city charter.

Two of the Capital City's elected leaders hosted a Facebook Live forum on Tallahassee's racial and income inequality the evening of Tuesday, July 28. Participating community advocates and activists had plenty to say.
The forum followed a weekend when hundreds of young people gathered in a Southside convenience store parking lot and one young man was shot to death in the course of the evening. Talethia Edwards, a neighborhood leader in the Bond Community, went out looking for answers.

"I had a young man say to me, 'Ms. T, we're out here because we don't have any money and y'all are telling us to go to a school system that's not working for us."

Delilah Pierre with the Tallahassee Community Action Committee had similar thoughts.

"The issues stemming from Tallahassee's rise in crime don't come from 'black-on-black crime,' they come from a failing school system that doesn't help black and brown children that especially with the COVID-19 epidemic right now would literally sacrifice their lives."

Although another panel member, Tallahassee NAACP Branch President Adner Marcelin believed more - not less - police involvement might help.

"The answer is why are there not more police officers are not patrolling and enforcing the restrictions that keep our community safe."

Still, panelists like Marie Rattigan with the Dream Defenders felt more law enforcement is the problem, not the solution.

"We need prevention intervention and coming up with alternative programs that can be alternatives to policing."

The discussion then wandered into topics like food deserts, lack of jobs and affordable housing and creeping gentrification. But the panelists kept coming back to changing the city police department, whether by diverting chunks of its budget to other services or an elected citizens group with the power to hire, fire and investigate officers. City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, who set up the forum along with County Commissioner Bill Proctor, said that kind of change would require changes to the city charter.

"And there are two ways to amend the city charter. One is for three commissioners to draft the language and vote to put it on the ballot for the people to vote on. And the other way is a petition. You get 13,000 signatures and then that goes on the ballot for the people to vote on."

That was an option most of the ten people on the panel seemed to think deserves more serious discussion.