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Tallahassee reflects on changes made one year after deaths of Malik Jackson, Tony McDade

Posted at 3:26 AM, May 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 10:20:54-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — One year after the deaths of Malik Jackson and Tony McDade, city leaders say they have worked to bring change to avoid similar tragedies from happening.

On May 27, 2020, Tallahassee Police say Tony McDade fatally stabbed Malik Jackson. Reports say McDade ran from the crime scene on Saxon but was later found on Holton Street.

"The suspect then made a move consistent with using the firearm against the officer, who fired their issued handgun, fatally striking the adult female suspect," the department wrote in a release at the time.

The interaction between McDade was all captured on body-worn camera footage.

In that year, the City of Tallahassee has enacted multiple policies as a direct result of the shooting, along with two other officer-involved shootings that year.

"We've learned, we've tried to get things right, and we've tried to do things better," said Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox.

City Commissioners approved a Police Review Board one month after the shootings. That 9-person-board is called in to review any use-of-force incident with TPD. After review, the team can make recommendations on policy change based on what they find.

"For many years, our citizens asked for a Citizens Police Review Board. We immediately got busy and put that in place so that we have a way for citizens to get engaged in that arena," said Williams-Cox.

However, many community activists, such as the Tallahassee Community Action Committee say the board isn't strong enough. The group says they would like to see "community control of the police", where the people have hiring and firing power over the department.

The department is also working to increase its visibility in the community, especially African-American neighborhoods, with more positive events. Most recently, Commissioner Williams-Cox, Police Chief Lawrence Revell, and more attended a Unity in the Community program at a Bond neighborhood church.

"Tallahassee Police Department has done different types of community events," said Williams-Cox. "I've gone with them on occasion to communities where we've engaged with the children, snow cones and fun things to engage with them."

The Commissioner says she enjoys being the go-between for the people and the badge. Tallahassee's southside is the focus of many projects led by the Commissioner.

"Not only is my community the southside, I'm a mother of three sons. It's very important to me that we have an opportunity to get to engage and understand the police and the police get to understand us, " she added. "If we continue to talk and try to understand one another, we'll be able to grow and continue to work with one another and trust one another more."

The events that transpired May 27, 2020, also led to action from the Tallahassee Citizen's Advisory Committee. The shooting came shortly after the formation of the group put together to help mend relationships between the community and the police. Pastor Rudy Ferguson is the head of the committee.

"There's a lot of people across this country and in Tallahassee who are still not in a position to trust law enforcement, no matter the color of the officer. It's a simple thing as they just don't want to trust them, they don't feel comfortable trusting them," said Pastor Ferguson. "Our goal is not to get them to trust them as an individual but as a unit."

Pastor Ferguson said the three officer-involved shootings in 2020, plus another in 2021 have made them look hard at the issues unique to the Capital City.

"What the council is doing now is working to preserve the sense of integrity in our community. Conflict resolution, to find a way to deal with our issues across the table instead of with guns. What we're doing now is working on finding ways to bridge the gap between law enforcement and our most vulnerable communities, which in most cases is going to be our black communities," he said.

He added that one key area the committee is focused on in regard to McDade's death is mental health.

"We're bringing in a lot of professionals, mental health professionals to better understand what we're doing in the city," he said.

Before jumping into hardened action, the committee is currently researching exactly what the climate between TPD and the people is. The council is currently inviting everyone to take a 22-question survey surrounding TPD's performance. Each question asking you to rate the department as excellent, good, needs improvement, or terrible.

"The questions were pretty much, how is Tallahassee Police department treating your community? Have you had any experiences with law enforcement, good or negative? We want to know everything. Do you think the Tallahassee Police Department could do better and in what areas?" said Ferguson.

When the survey closes on June 30, the committee will study the multiple factors of respondents.

"We broke that survey down based on race, gender, all those different elements so we can get a clear understanding on how one individual sees law enforcement, what improvements can be made, and what changes can be put in place."

In 2021, City Commissioners also created the "Tallahassee Bystander" app. The app allows hands-free, voice-activated recordings of police interactions.

It also launched TEAM, a mental health response crew made up of a trained counselor, an officer, and a firefighter. In cases of non-violent mental health 911 calls, the city is now sending them instead of one uniformed officer.

Despite efforts to mend the broken relationship many have with TPD, there are people who say there needs to be more.

Devoria Hollis is a lifelong southside Tallahassee resident. She said she grew up with Tony McDade, and even saw the aftermath of the shooting one year ago.

"I got off the bus and I have seen all that," said Hollis.

Hollis said she wants to see more change in how law enforcement responds to mental health calls. She said it's one of many sweeping changes she wants to see within TPD. To Hollis, there's a stark contrast between responses from the Leon County Sheriff's Office and the police department.

"The Sheriff is going to come and get down to the bottom of it. They're not going to come and jump out with their hand on their gun yelling and screaming and making the situation worse than what it could be," she said.

Hollis says despite the efforts to be more transparent and spark more positive conversations, she hasn't seen the efforts to be heard.

"They don't go around and ask the community if they see any problems, anything that could be done differently, or any changes," she said.

To Hollis, the issues aren't just about the response to emergencies. She says on Tallahassee's southside, there's another issue: housing.

"They're tearing down all the houses, all the projects. All you got is these student apartments and we can't live in those," said Hollis.

Hollis said she wants to see more efforts to preserve housing, as well as more infrastructure to keep the youth engaged as a deterrent to them turning to a life of crime.

"What they need to do is build something for the kids, a playground or a water park, something, everything is for the students. Where does that leave us?"

Commissioner Williams-Cox said she's ready to work with community members like Hollis.

"I think that we've learned that we've got to continue to be more engaged and we'll continue to do that. We're not perfect. We have much more work to do on both sides. I'm hoping that we'll continue to work together to get that done," said the Commissioner.

You can contact any City Commissioner here. You can also find the link to the TPD Performance survey here. The deadline to take the survey is June 30.