An "abolish police" sticker on her cup resulted in activist Taylor Biro being removed from Tallahassee’s Citizen Police Review Board Wednesday.
With a push from the city’s police union, Tallahassee city commissioners voted 3-2 to oust Biro from the board. City commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter voted against.
The fallout has led at least two review board members to resign their posts.
The sticker, which has a design of a police officer striking a citizen with a no symbol over it, was initially and incorrectly said to be an "(expletive) the police” sticker, when it was brought up by a commissioner at last month's meeting. That sparked the Big Bend Police Benevolent Association to immediately call for Biro's removal.
The "abolish police" sticker is one of many stickers on the silver tumbler, including ones of Bernie Sanders, Prince, a purple frog, a sticker from the ACLU that says "Get a warrant," and a sticker of an old anarchist and labor saying, "No Gods, No Masters, No Captains."
Biro texted the Democrat a statement after the vote and a parade of speakers urged commissioners to let her stay on the board. Biro said she was proud of her community who stood by their beliefs.
"The board was designed to be toothless but the people and my fellow board members found a way to give it teeth" said Biro, who has been critical of TPD and its chief Lawrence Revell. "I am proud of our convictions and at the end of the day, the halls of power showed they aren't interested in real change. So we won't be looking to them for permission as we move forward."
Commissioner Williams-Cox leads the charge to remove Biro
Wednesday night at City Hall, Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox made a motion to remove Biro as commissioners were supposed to reappoint two other board members, including Chairman Edward Gaines and Barry Munroe.
Instead, Munroe and Gaines were also effectively removed from the board as Williams-Cox sought to allow other organizations to offer nominees.
“All city appointed citizens on committees may be removed if it's in the best interest of the city,” Williams-Cox said. “We will also accept resignations from other board members who wish to resign.”
Williams-Cox said the board put out two “unauthorized” press releases regarding the issue swirling around Biro and said given the consternation from the PBA, she found it difficult for the board to continue to function with Biro on it.
In announcing his resignation prior to the expiration of his term, Gaines said in a statement that Williams-Cox created a firestorm by erroneously saying the mug had an "expletive the police" sticker on it. He also said the press releases weren't unauthorized. He said the board was trained by an assistant city attorney on "how to send out press releases" and encouraged to send announcements to the media.
Williams-Cox and Mayor John Dailey both were endorsed by and received campaign donations directly from the PBA and were supported by political committees the union helped bankroll.
“We’ve got to make sure that this board can remain credible and can work to make sure our community and the police have a good working relationship,” she said. “I feel that the board has gone away from its mission and has been distracted by these things.”
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But police review board member Malik Gary said the hullabaloo over Biro’s mug overshadows other issues that have taken center stage in recent weeks, primarily two mass shootings that left two people dead and multiple others injured.
“We’ve got work to do. This issue is not work for us to do,” said Gary, who said he too was an abolitionist. “You can't even go and play basketball without being shot. But, we’re going to talk about Ms. Biro’s cup. We’ve got other issues.”
Some board members resign, others sticking
The nine-member panel was installed in September 2020 but has little authority over policies except to make recommendations to Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell and review incidents after they've gone through the internal review process at the agency.
Earlier this week, police review board Chair Gaines issued a statement supporting Biro remaining on the board. That came after the review board met last week and unanimously voted to issue a press release in support of Biro.
Biro’s ouster prompted at least two resignations from members of the CPRB.
At the same time Gaines resigned, Dailey’s appointee to the board, Patrick O’Bryant, announced his departure just before 9 p.m. in an email, saying the board was straying from its initial intent.
“It is clear the direction of the board is moving away from the vision of cordial discourse, meaningful debate and purposeful change which I signed up for,” wrote O'Bryant, a Tallahassee attorney and son of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare CEO Mark O'Bryant. "I hereby submit my resignation from the board to make way for a new member who may be better aligned with the Commission’s ideals for the board.”
Board member Gary also said he would resign from the board if Biro is removed. On Thursday, however, Gary, who was appointed by Matlow, said he was not resigning from the board and called Biro’s removal a “political stunt.”
“For a lot of us, we want to resign, but I think the problem with resigning is it leaves an opportunity for them to put whoever they want on the board,” he said.
He noted there was little in the CPRB’s charter that prevented it from issuing statements and that the board unanimously supported keeping Biro.
“It’s like the City Commission wants people to follow their orders and sit down.”
Rosetta Bobo also said she had no intention of leaving the board because she felt the work was too important to abandon. She did take issue with Williams-Cox’s statement accepting resignations.
“I got on the board to make a difference and to talk about what police brutality looks like in Tallahassee,” said Bobo, who was appointed by Porter. “It’s a power struggle, to me, with them. I was disappointed in the decision they made, but what can we say.”
All agree the cup issue is a 'huge distraction'
At Wednesday's City Commission meeting, Matlow called the issue a huge distraction from the board's mission.
“What we're looking for is a conversation to strengthen the relationship between the police department and our community,” he said. “All viewpoints to me are welcome because we need to have a diversity of viewpoints. If we don’t forge that relationship we're just spinning our wheels and this board serves no purpose at all.”
Porter added she would not consider removing a board member who displayed a “Blue Lives Matter” sticker, although such a sticker could offend plenty of people. She said she was concerned about the heavy-handedness of the police union.
“It’s a two-way street,” Porter said. “And I don’t think we want to set ourselves up, with all respect to the union, that we’re pressured to remove a board member because they want us to.”
Commissioner Curtis Richardson said the intent of the citizens board wasn’t to pull together different viewpoints, and the sticker on Biro’s cup has “irrevocably broken” its relationship with the police department.
“We’re not talking about people bringing viewpoints to this board. It was never established for that,” Richardson said. “It was about this board reviewing actions by the police that largely impacted the African-American community and now we're talking about a damn cup.”
Citizens speak out
A group of citizens came to the defense of Biro even before a motion had been made. Many noted her character and the commitment she has to making the city better. Biro was named one of the Tallahassee Democrat's 25 Women to Know in 2022.
“She brings a perspective from the community’s point of view that you don’t always hear,” said Chuck White. “I think we’ve got a very strong police department, and I think our police department can stand a criticism.”
Others weren’t as supportive.
Barney Bishop, who is registered at the state level as a lobbyist representing two law enforcement agencies but is not registered with the city, said Biro should be removed.
“You can't have somebody serving on that that is prejudiced,” said Bishop, who told commissioners he was representing the law enforcement support group Back the Badge. “It is the opinion of Back the Badge that Ms. Biro not be admitted to serve as she has admitted that she is biased.”
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Tallahassee Commission ousts police review board member over sticker