Pioneering officers fought for racial equality at TPD - New York News

Pioneering officers fought for racial equality at TPD

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Not many people know the changes that have taken place in the Tampa Police Department over the years -- historic changes that put a black officer on the force for the first time in 1879.

What's known even less is what those pioneers went through. Men like 86-year-old LaMarcus Larry, who was hired in 1954. He filled one of eight positions set aside for black people.

But the rules were very different for the black officers. For one thing, they couldn't arrest white people.

"The black officers could not arrest whites, and they also could not arrest schoolteachers," Larry says.

He adds that they could patrol only black neighborhoods, and they couldn't change into their uniforms at the police station like white officers.

They had to stand behind white officers in the hallway during roll call, and they had to endure constant racial slurs.

"I felt like I was considered to be nobody," Larry said.

When asked if he could do anything about it, Larry said no, and that he had to take it.

Why?

"Cause you either take it, or you lose your job," he said.

Larry, a Korean War veteran, was a Tampa Police officer for 21 years. He retired in 1975.

One year earlier, four young black officers who were fed up with racism met in secret.

Retired TPD officer Clarence Nathan was one of them.

"We all realized it would cost us our careers. We all were afraid," he said.

Another officer, Frank Gray, says the conditions were unbearable for some.

"One of the brothers even quit the police department because he couldn't stand the pressure being put on us," Gray said.

Frank Gray, Clarence Nathan, James Dukes, and Rufus Lewis compiled evidence and filed a discrimination complaint in 1974 with the EEOC in Washington, D.C. It showed how officers like John Lane could work 22 years and not get a promotion, and how others, like Sam Filmore, excelled and were still denied.

"Filmore took advanced training at his own expense, and on his own time, when the department was paying for white officers to go to these same classes."

Two years later in 1976, the four officers won. The Equal Opportunity Commission found widespread racial bias at the Tampa Police Department.

Mayor Bill Poe signed a federal agreement to end discrimination that would benefit women too.

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says the black officers were courageous.

"They were able to make changes that not only affected our community and the police department, but myself included as the first female police chief," Castor said.

A black woman who graduated from the Tampa Police Department Academy filed a discrimination complaint in 1972. Thelma Alford was told she didn't meet height requirements.

At that time, an officer had to be 5'8" Alford was 5'7". She was among 200 black city employees to sue and win small cash settlements from the city because of discrimination.

Doors opened, and 20-year-veteran Bennie Holder became Tampa's first black police chief in 1993.

Today, LaMarcus Larry says he's pleased to see an end to the harassment and bias he endured. And he's proud of the part he played to bring racial and gender equality to TPD.

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