More than 100 show up to canceled NAACP, Sarasota PD meeting

- Community members who hoped for open communications with Sarasota police were left disappointed Wednesday evening after SPD and the NAACP canceled a public meeting at the last minute.

On social media, more than 100 people confirmed attendance at the NAACP meeting scheduled for Wednesday at Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 1719 22nd Street in Sarasota.

The Sarasota Police Department was supposed to be in attendance, talking with community members about issues in the black community and ways to improve police relations.

One hour before the event was scheduled to begin, Sarasota police issued a statement on Facebook that read in part, "Due to logistics surrounding tonight's Community Meeting, the NAACP, FOCUS and the Sarasota Police Department has decided to postpone tonight's Community Conversation with area law enforcement."

Many people did not get the notice before arriving to find cancelation signs on the doors of the church.

"I'm very disappointed in the fact that this was canceled last minute notice. I know people from around the community, as far north as St. Pete and Tampa, drove down," said Steve Schipman.

He said at least 60 others in a Facebook group he joined were planning to protest against "police brutality" outside of the church.

"We were all looking forward to this, with everything that has been happening in the last couple of weeks," said Rhana Bazzini, a Sarasota resident.

The meeting follows the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota at the hands of police, in addition to a retaliation shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas.

"Like in Dallas, if you don't have a venue to vent and people are not getting any kind of action and respect that they should get, then it gets out of hand," said Lou Murray of Newtown.

Several attendees decided to take matters into their own hands, organizing an impromptu meeting, without Sarasota Police, at True Worship Ministries, 1856 Dr. Martin Luther King Way in Sarasoa.

The large group quickly filled the one room church, spilling out onto the sidewalks once seats ran out.

One of several community members to speak on their experiences with police was Natasha Clemons.

Her son, 23-year-old Rodney Mitchell was shot and killed by deputies in Sarasota in 2012 during a traffic stop. Authorities said it turned violent when Mitchell drove towards an officer. Clemons still proclaims her son's innocence.

"I'm taking a stand. I'm not sitting down. I'm not allowing them to treat me any kind of way," said Clemons, referring to law enforcement.

The majority of speakers stressed the importance of open and honest dialogue about black inequalities with police in order to start the healing process.

No date or time has been decided for a make-up meeting, according to Sarasota Police.

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