Tampa activists demand justice for Kai Summers, who died in custody of HCSO

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On Wednesday, activist group Tampa Dream Defenders brought survivors of state violence and community members to Hillsborough County’s Orient Road jail to speak out against violence against protesters in local jails. The group also demanded justice for Kai Summers, a 42-year-old who died on August 3 after being in the custody of the Hillsborough County Sheriff (HCSO) for almost six days.

HCSO has opened an investigation into the Summers’ death, which happened on Monday, August 3, nearly a week after she was booked into the jail on Tuesday July 28 after being charged with aggravated child abuse, child abuse and child neglect. HCSO officials said that Summers had “previously been diagnosed with a host of medical issues,” but as her health declined while in HCSO, she was not taken to the hospital until Sunday, Aug. 2.

According to Ashley Green, a member of the Bay Area Dream Defenders and a well-known St. Pete community organizer, Summers had lived with a whole host of physical and mental health conditions, including dementia and an autoimmune disorder. This information was gathered from surviving family members of Summers, who—although not in attendance at the Wednesday rally—entrusted Green with a statement to be read on their behalf.

“I am not here to defend [Summers’] imperfections,” Green said, “but to defend her humanity.” According to her arrest record, Summers had received numerous charges of child neglect and abuse upon her July 28 arrest. Regardless, Green said her family has been devastated in the wake of the many unknowns surrounding Summers’ rapid health decline at Orient Jail and her death at TGH. “Her children are in pain because of this. Her family is in pain.”

Summers had not carried health insurance prior to her arrest, according to Green, and thus had been unable to seek the medical and mental health treatment services she might have needed to address her worsening health conditions. 

“We use words like animals and criminals to strip those people of their humanity, but it doesn’t make them any less of a human being,” Green said, to applause from the small crowd. “When Kai came here [to Orient Jail], she was unwell. She needed help. 

“The system was not designed to help her. It was designed to make her sickness worse. It was designed to kill her. And it did.”

According to Green, Kai had been visibly bleeding and ill when booked into Orient Jail on July 28. Over the course of the next few days, Summers’ health continued to decline, without proper medical treatment. 

“Instead of seeking treatment, they gave her a cage. And then when she was found in the shower and nearly bled out, then she was bad enough to take to the hospital, but it’s not right.”

Green invoked civil rights activist, Angela Davis, with the quote, “Jails and prisons do not solve problems. They disappear human beings. And Kai,” Green said, “is now disappeared from the earth.”

On Thursday, the Hillsborough County medical examiner told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that results from the autopsy on Summers are not yet available.

Matthew Yampolsky, another speaker at the action, previously told CL that he was beaten by HCSO deputies after being arrested in an action that pointed out the contradiction baked into downtown Tampa’s symbolically, and aesthetically, ugly “Bock the Blup” mural in downtown Tampa. Kai Robinson and Julien Gibbs, both transgender men, also told reporters that on the same day, they were groped and harassed by jail officers because of their gender identities.

Speakers at the rally cited the cash bail system, disparities in access to housing and healthcare—as issues that disproportionately harm Black communities, that could be better addressed through a reallocation of a percentage of the police budget into the community. 

Earlier this month, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor shared her plans to increase the Tampa Police Department budget by $13 million for the 2021 Fiscal Year—totaling a whopping $176 million.

Dream Defenders speaker, Craig Fox, said protestors are ready to continue calling on Tampa City Council members to reject Castor’s budget. Demands from local activist groups include issuing a freeze on the TPD budget and relocating 19% of TPD budget spending towards the development of community safety programs. Fox specifically pointed to the Office of Neighborhood Safety program in Richmond, California, as an example, which has drastically reduced gun violence and the number of homicides in the community on less than a three million dollar budget.

Fox announced that Tampa Bay’s newly-formed People’s Safety Coalition—comprised of activists groups such as Dream Defenders, Tampa Bay Activist Network, the Black Collective Movement (BCM), and others—will be hosting their first community event this Sunday, August 30, to gather community input on public safety priorities and to dispel misconceptions about what it means to ‘defund the police’.

The People’s Budget Workshop community event will take place at MacFarlane Park from 2-4 p.m. and will also be broadcasted live over Zoom and possibly Facebook Live. —McKenna Schueler and Ray Roa

UPDATED: 08/27/20 2:50 p.m. Updated with comment from the Hillsborough County medical examiner.

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08/26/2020 | Photos by Dave Decker and Bryan Edward Creative