Our Town: Sarasota Community News, March 2015

Hot topics, talk and history.

By Cooper Levey-Baker February 27, 2015

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Vintage Sarasota

In part because of her keen interest in Florida real estate, Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer became one of the best-known businesswomen of her time and left a lasting imprint on our city. In 1910, she bought 80,000 acres of land here and became a developer, encouraging her influential friends and colleagues to spend winters here. After her death, her sons donated the land that is now Myakka State Park.

Photo courtesy of Historic Spanish Point

Uneasy Street

Sarasota has yet to see the kind of conflicts between the police and black community recently experienced in other parts of the country, but flashpoints remain. A 2009 incident in which a Sarasota police officer kicked a handcuffed Guatemalan man led to the creation of the city’s Police Complaint Committee. And the 2012 shooting death of Rodney Mitchell in north Sarasota has led to continued protests as well as a federal lawsuit. So where do things stand today between the police and Sarasota’s minority communities?

“The relationship is fairly good. There’s open communication with the county sheriff and the city police chief. If someone feels they’ve been illegally stopped or there was excessive force, we can vet the process and if there’s something wrong we move on it. [It’s] gotten better over the last 10 years.”—Trevor Harvey, president of the Sarasota branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

“I’m really proud to tell you our crime rate is down 10 percent over last year, and that’s occurring [because of] our community policing strategy. We are all fighting crime together. And we will continue to do outreach at every level. It’s important to cultivate that relationship. It can’t be once a year.”—Bernadette DiPino, chief of police with the Sarasota Police Department

“I have cousins in the police department and in the sheriff’s office. I’ve been exposed to positive interactions with law enforcement. But I’ve also been on the other side [when] they were worried about what I might have been. Not the guy with two master’s degrees working on a doctorate and a lot of other positive things, but a big black guy.”—Dumaka Atkins, Sarasota High School history teacher and football coach

“It’s ever-improving. [After] the horrendous issue between the police and the Guatemalan man, it was ugly to see such discord between uniforms and the Hispanic community. The main issue is always communication and [sometimes] there’s a language barrier—we have to be aware of [that].”—Frankie Soriano, former member of the Police Complaint Committee

Just Sayin’

“I have a child in college and I’m very concerned [about] this bill [to allow concealed weapons on public university campuses]. The maturity level of many students and the party atmosphere present would increase the danger of accidental shootings.” —Florida resident Susan Robinson, objecting to a state legislative committee about a proposed bill by Sarasota Rep. Greg Steube

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