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NAACP and Sarasota police work to ensure noise ordinance enforcement doesn’t create more problems

Mural on building depicting Rosa Parks surrounded by children. The words 'Unity is Power' is on the left, next to drawing of girls playing jump rope.
Discover Sarasota
Some Newtown residents complain about losing sleep, but others say enforcing a noise law would mean more traffic stops for young black men.

Under Florida law, police can pull over and ticket drivers for playing music too loud. One historically black neighborhood is working with police to enforce the law without endangering the people who break it.

In the historically black neighborhood of Newtown in Sarasota, community members are split on whether police should be more forceful when it comes to issuing tickets for drivers who violate a statewide noise ordinance.

The law, which took effect last summer, allows police to pull over and ticket drivers for playing music too loud.

"Newtown is like a lot of black communities that feels there's been a long history of police interactions that haven't been responsive or attuned to the community's needs," said Bill Woodson, a spokesperson for the NAACP in Sarasota County.

He says some residents complain about losing sleep, but others say enforcing the noise law would mean more traffic stops for young black men.

And they're not wrong.

An investigation by Fresh Take Florida at the University of Florida showed that Black drivers received almost 37% of tickets issued under the new law, despite making up only about 16% of Florida's drivers.

But that's not the case in Sarasota.

Educating the residents

"The police department and the NAACP collaborated to create a campaign to inform the community that there is an ordinance," Woodson said. "If you're having an issue but you're afraid to call 911 because you think it might make things worse, well the police can't do their job."

So instead of immediately enforcing the statute, people in Newtown have heard a lot about what the law actually is. There have been several community meetings and flyers posted on bulletin boards spell it out: Florida police can stop drivers and issue them a noncriminal infraction for playing music “plainly audible” from 25 feet away.

Sarasota Police Captain Ken Rainey acknowledges that for young black men, minor traffic stops can turn deadly when tensions are often high and adrenaline is rushing.

"We don't want to increase the likelihood of a tragedy occurring," Rainey said. "So, we need to very judicious in saying, well, we have this new law on the books, everyone needs to be thoughtful in the approach to that. I mean, it is a very delicate balance."

The relationship between police and Sarasota's black community hasn't always been cooperative. But for the past several years, police and the NAACP have come together. In January of 2022, they teamed up to create a new police training program which offers diversity training and a course in crisis intervention.

"Because on these calls that you go to, you may be dealing with somebody that has some deep seeded issues with law enforcement that goes back decades," Rainey said.

Black man with gray beard, wearing glasses and a blue smock, smiles at camera.
Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Jetson Grimes, the owner of Jetson’s Creative Trends hair salon in Newtown, is a longtime neighborhood resident.

A safer community

Newtown resident Jetson Grimes, 82, knows something about those tensions.

"I've been here for a while," he said. "I was here during segregation, Jim Crow, desegregation of the community."

Grimes has owned his neighborhood hair salon, Jetson's Creative Trends for more than 40 years. He remembers when Newtown was filled with black-owned businesses.

But the neighborhood has faced many challenges over the years including in the early 1990s when cocaine dealers set up shop.

"The drug dealers, at one time they had just almost taken over the community," Grimes said. "So, there needed to be a little more force from our police department because a lot of businesses left. But there wasn't a balance there. They came in beating people, or arresting them."

Grimes calls the Newtown of today a safer community, and he works to change perceptions.

That includes with police.

As part of their training, all new recruits with the Sarasota Police Department take a field trip to his shop where the walls are covered with photographs of prominent Newtown citizens and newspaper clippings of the neighborhood's history.

Framed newspaper clippings hang on a wall.
Cathy Carter
WUSF Public Media
Next door to Jetson's Creative Salon, Jetson Grimes operates his self-funded and curated Newtown history and local Black art gallery.

He takes them on a walking tour of the community and encourages police trainees to get to know the people who live there.

"When that happens, people will let you know when they're having an issue because you build a relationship," he said. "And once we started doing that I think we made a tremendous difference in this community here."

Sarasota Police say the measured approach in enforcing the noise ordinance is an example of how collaboration can lead to safer outcomes.

Since the law took effect 10 months ago, the agency has issued 20 warnings and just one noise citation in Newtown.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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