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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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More than 300 march against violence in E. Tampa

TAMPA — The words rang loudly through Rechi Butler's bullhorn.

“Stop the violence, East Tampa!” called Butler, a motivational speaker who founded the local Get It Straight Foundation for at-risk youth.

Behind him, more than 300 people loudly repeated his call.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, a large crowd gathered at Lee Davis Neighborhood Service Center for the walk up North 22nd to Belmont Heights Little League Field. Many demonstrators wore white “Stop the Violence” T-shirts, and many appeared to be teenagers, just the demographic organizers had targeted.

Longtime community leader Dianne Hart said several young people in the area came to her several months ago, seeking help in promoting the event.

“It's the first of more demonstrations like this,” Hart said. “We want to move it around to other areas of the city.”

She credited the younger crowd for effectively spreading word through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

As she waited for the walk to begin, Kenya Robinson dried her eyes.

Her son, Nico Crawford, 22, was shot to death on Easter Sunday alongside Zedmon Culpepper, 17, after a fight at Al Barnes Park on 32nd Street North. An Easter egg hunt was being held at the park when the bullet that killed her son was fired.

“Nico touched a lot of people. He was loved everywhere,” Robinson said. “It takes us to try to make a movement.

“That bullet wasn't meant for him, but there's no reason to bring a gun to an Easter egg hunt,” she said.

Otis House said he used to counsel Nico Crawford. House said he has worked with youth in the community for about 16 years, but gun violence over the last year “has gotten crazy.”

House blamed “conflict in the community” for the shootings, but said he didn't believe the strife was drug-related.

Ali Muhammad, chairman of the New Black Panthers in Tampa, helped organize the event.

Muhammad, 26, said he was raised in nearby Central Park Village. When he was a teenager, he said the neighborhood was relatively calm. Today, high unemployment has led to more crime, he said.

“There's hatred, but no respect,” Muhammad said. “No neighborhood respect, no unity. Hopefully, this will help bring in some positive energy.”

Before the walk began, State Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, said she is working to get additional funding that could go toward reducing recidivism rates and “increasing opportunities for youth” in the community.

At the Little League field, demonstrators were offered information about obtaining GEDs and job leads.

Tampa Police Officer Jarda Bradford has done crime prevention work in the community over the past year.

“We do special events and workshops to empower young people,” she said. “We do workshops against bullying, gun violence and gang activity, even pedestrian and bike safety. We teach respect.”

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said violent crime in the area has gone down overall, but there has been an “uptick” in shootings.

“There's an incident, then there's retaliation,” Castor said. “Our obligation is to try to prevent the violence. In viewing the dispute, we try and find the warring parties, and meet with individuals who could be the next victims.

“If they won't speak with us, we go to their family members to let them know: 'Yours could be next.'”

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