City of Lakeland hosts forum on race relations

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – The City Commission and Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz listened to community members Monday night during a candid conversation on confronting racism at the RP Funding Center.

“Racism still exists here in Lakeland, Polk County Florida, but there is hope,” Allyson “Al” Lewis said.

In the socially distanced auditorium, the Lakeland native spoke of bringing people together to break down racial barriers.

“If we continue to talk, if we continue to move there will be change,” she said.

8 On Your Side heard calls for outfitting Lakeland Police Officers with body cameras and banning the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, like when a demonstration moved to Memorial Boulevard six days after the death of George Floyd on May 31.

“What I would like to see happen within our city is for more engagement between our community and our law enforcement because there is a distrust because of things that are happening,” one speaker said during public comment. “Not all cops are racist, let me make that clear…but one bad apple spoil the whole bunch so to speak and make it bad for the good ones.”

This forum did not just focus on ideas for policy changes at LPD.

“We are done dying,” said Jackie Vickers from the NAACP Lakeland Branch.

Vickers said now is the time to fight voter suppression and “ensure people are utilizing their right to vote to vote hate out of power.”

She also addressed the coronavirus pandemic in Polk County.

“The black community is suffering at a very large disproportioned infection rate,” Vickers said.

Before the forum, 8 On Your side spoke one-on-one with Mayor Mutz.

“This has been a time that has created the most peaked social awareness about responsibilities we have for justice and equity in I think my lifetime,” the mayor said. “So I don’t want us to miss that moment.”

Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk founder Jarvis Washington told 8 On Your Side he is working with community partners on drafting proposed policy reforms for LPD to present to the city. One of them he said is introducing a new method for officers to restrain suspects without force.

He also said he is working with the city on expanding economic opportunities in the black community. 

“The mayor also agreed on a business training program for some of the black businesses in the black community to help them learn how to put out a business, get it running,” Washington said.

During the forum, Washington said BLM Restoration Polk has plans to expand in six cities in the county.

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