Remembering Arthur Green, Jr.
Updated: Mar 10, 2019
By Kurt B. Young
"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Tampa’s mayoral election is encircled in a certain political moment. It is a moment associated with the historic presidency of Barak Obama, the counteractive presidency of Donald Trump, the “wave” midterms of 2018, and the highly-anticipated 2020 elections. It is also a moment defined by certain themes. Recurrent issues of national security, jobs, and free trade are joined now by principles of social justice, equality, and accountability. But how might this moment and its principles deepen our understanding of this election and the memory of Arthur Green, Jr.?
Springtime in Tampa is always a moment to remember the life of Arthur Green, Jr. It is also the time that we remember his death, and those who had the power to decide it. Namely, in this early voting period, a peculiar strategy has emerged in the Jane Castor For Mayor campaign: elect Candidate Jane Castor with the memory of Chief Jane Castor. Vote for Candidate Castor because Tampa Police Chief Castor, we are told, made “our neighborhoods safer places to live, play and enjoy.” Featured on the campaign website is Ms. Castor's claim that, “For three decades, first as a beat cop then as Chief of Police, I dedicated myself to making Tampa safe, making sure every family in every neighborhood thrives. That's exactly what I'll do as your mayor.” Remembering Arthur Green, Jr. means remembering a very different Chief Jane Castor.
Social Justice or the Betrayal of Arthur Green, Jr.?
Arthur Green, Jr. was a special human being. He will always be remembered for the countless ways in which he committed himself to his family. He was a generous man who found personal satisfaction in giving spontaneous gifts to family members after memorizing everyone’s hobbies, pastimes, and idiosyncrasies. He was a fearless protector of the family. We remember the comfort of his daily house patrols to ensure the safety of family and friends in the neighborhood. However, we also remember that Arthur Green Jr. was killed on April 16, 2014 while in the custody of Tampa Police officers.
On that day, Arthur Green Jr., a 63-year-old model citizen with a spotless driving record, began experiencing a diabetic seizure while driving. Officer Anthony Portman first arrived on the scene in time to observe him sideswipe two other vehicles at a very low speed before coming to a slow stop. Portman approached him, commanded him to exit the vehicle, then attempted to extract him by force. Green’s deteriorating condition due to his falling blood sugar level rendered him incapable of responding coherently to Portman’s instructions. Unable to pull him from the vehicle, Portman removed the key from the ignition, then waited.
At that point, Portman could have chosen for Arthur Green, Jr. the safety Ms. Castor mentioned. He had an opportunity to de-escalate. He had time to better assess Arthur Green, Jr.’s hypoglycemic condition. He chose not to. Portman instead set a different tone with a distressed call for backup. When Officer Matthew Smith arrived, and as Green sat patiently, Smith and Portman escalated the situation by violently forcing Green from his vehicle then to the ground. Other responding officers joined in pinning Green’s face to the pavement and pressing their knees into his back and upper torso with enough weight to break his rib cage. After holding Green in this suffocating position, and cuffing his hands behind his back, another officer left to retrieve additional foot shackles. He would not have the opportunity to use them. Arthur Green, Jr. had already taken his final breath.
(In)Equality for Our Community?
Arthur Green, Jr. was not an isolated man. He was a part of the fabric of his beloved Robles Park community. Concerned that children in Robles Park had few if any structured activities, he and his wife, Lena Young-Green, responded by establishing the Robles Park Wildcats Youth Football and Cheerleading Program. On Saturdays and Sundays, he watched with pride many of his former Wildcats players who went on to play college and professional football. In a society that too often fears, discards, and criminalizes its youth, he touched lives by taking the time to build relationships with young people. They knew he cared for them. In turn, they trusted and respected him.
So, for residents of Robles Park, like many in Tampa’s other African American communities, the handling of Arthur Green, Jr. as a violent criminal by Tampa police officers precisely illustrated a racist approach to policing Black neighborhoods. We should remember that TPD’s bicycle ticketing policy under Jane Castor’s leadership deliberately targeted African American citizens and communities. The 2016 U.S. Department of Justice study showing that, while representing roughly 25% of the population, 81% of all ticketed bicyclists were African American.
In addition, the DOJ report was preceded by a 2015 study that exposed the discriminatory foundations of the policy: “A Tampa Bay Times investigation has found that Tampa Police are targeting poor, black neighborhoods with obscure subsections of a Florida stature that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no lights or carrying a friend on the handlebars.” On the core question of how African American communities are viewed, the study let Chief Castor speak for herself: “’This is not a coincidence,’ said Police Chief Jane Castor. ‘Many individuals receiving bike citations are involved in criminal activity.’”
Ms. Castor’s view of African American residents and communities were betrayed by the data, which actually revealed that “only 20% of adults ticketed last year were arrested.” Rather than safe and thriving, Ms. Castor’s leadership was imbued with a type of racial bias that, a priori, indicts an entire community as criminal. Notwithstanding her convenient 2018 epiphany that the policy was wrong, when this kind of bias exist, innocent people die.
Accountability for Chief & Candidate Castor?
Remembering Arthur Green Jr. reveals a lack of accountability during Chief Castor’s leadership. And remembering Chief Castor reveals the hypocrisy in Candidate Castor’s mayoral campaign. No one has been held to account. Rather, TPD official statements and case documents peddled the typical lines we hear in police-related killings of African American men. Mr. Green was called “combative.” He was accused of “resisting” arrest. Ms. Castor specifically stated in an early conversation with one of Mr. Green’s sons that after viewing the video, her officers “didn’t’ do anything wrong.”
If this is so, what then did he do to deserve broken ribs, facial lacerations, and asphyxiation due to the officers’ actions? What did he do to deserve such a violent and criminalized death when he was neither violent or a criminal? Arthur Green, Jr. was a loving and gentle elder, suffering from a diabetic episode, and in need of -but denied- the safety Candidate Castor proclaims.
Ms. Castor’s claims to truly serve all Tampa residents and communities is not credible when we clearly saw, under her watch, the denial of justice for Arthur Green, Jr.; the unequal discriminatory treatment of communities like his; and the failure to hold those responsible to account.
And when targeted communities struggle for justice and equality, they must simultaneously commit to remembering the sources of their dis-empowerment, the causes of their injustice, then vote accordingly.
Dr. Kurt B. Young is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Clark Atlanta University. He resides in Tampa, Florida and is the oldest son of Lena Young-Green and Arthur Green, Jr.