Is Tampa a victim of racial profiling?

Could it be that the Florida A&M-Bethune Cookman Florida Classic, formerly held in Tampa, has been replaced by the Punch Bowl?

Some would say so, including at least one “progressive” religious leader, who sees a continuum of racial slights and insults. Same racist game, but different visiting teams.

By now, we’re all too familiar with the recent incident, the anatomy of a rumor and the birth of an indignation, over at downtown Tampa’s Marriott Waterside Hotel.

A member of the predominately black Progressive National Baptist Convention saw a melanin-challenged Marriott staffer spit into a fruit punch bowl. Or maybe he took a sip. Or retrieved a ladle. Or dropped in a Baby Ruth bar for comic relief. Moreover, he then tainted a 1,000-person, sit-down meal of grilled salmon and filet mignon. Or not.

Whatever, by the time the general manager, who was not on site, could be summoned, the Rev. C. Mackey Daniels, head of the PNB convention, had issued marching orders. The group then walked out on the pricey repast. They marched to the nearest, next-biggest hotel, which mercifully wasn’t an Adam’s Mark. Presumably, they didn’t call ahead requesting a table with a viewpoint for 1,000. The downtown Hyatt Regency should be commended for scrambling to put out the mother of all chicken wing spreads.

The person, later identified as the Rev. Frederick Jones, who saw whatever it was that was to be seen at the Marriott is not talking. Except to PNB lawyers. Certainly not to anyone in Tampa, including the Marriott, the mayor, the media and the police. In fact, Jones checked out of his hotel early and left town.

The person, later identified as Istvan Kovacs, who was seen doing whatever it was that was done, says he merely retrieved a ladle, taking pains to avoid dipping any digits into the punch.

The truth is out there somewhere, but the staffer’s credibility is understandably — and likely irretrievably — undermined. Not only is he white, but he unfortunately hails from that hotbed of racial intolerance — Hungary.

Bigot-guilty until proven otherwise.

Only reinforcing the Napoleonic code was Paul Catoe, the untenably positioned president of the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “Until someone comes forward to prove to us something didn’t happen, we’ll assume it did,” Catoe told the St. Petersburg Times.

It’s come to this. City officials, including Mayor Dick Greco, apologizing for whatever, if anything, happened. And it’s incumbent upon the city to prove a negative. It’s not incumbent upon the PNB convention, however, to even help clarify the matter, except to its legal counsel.

Since the case for black victimization is so easy to make in politically correct America, including, some would contend, in racially retro Tampa, then it must be true. Whatever “it” is.

As a city, Tampa is racially profiled. Call it hosting while white. It’s based on incidents past, some legitimate and some not. It now feeds on itself.

For example, notice how the first Marriott media accounts also referenced the complaints of black Florida Classic visitors in 1994 who were angry that Tampa Bay Center, across from what was then Houlihan’s Stadium, closed early on game day.

The ensuing racial flap, which made the rounds again last year during the FAMU Law School site-selection charade, led to the game being moved to Orlando. What’s never mentioned in the media mantra is that TBC merchants welcomed the middle-class, middle-aged fans in town for reunions and shopping — but not the problematic onslaught of unaffiliated teenagers who historically flock to major “black events.”

Interesting that when the Rev. Daniels convened an ad hoc board meeting a couple of days after the Marriott incident, he presented a list of 20 racially charged incidents in Tampa’s past.

And it was current enough to include the racial discrimination lawsuit involving black women basketball players at the University of South Florida. He had no details about the damning allegations the PNB convention had made, but he had his show-and-tell Top 20.

His moral high ground was a sinkhole, but it didn’t matter. This is no more about M.L. King and Rosa Parks than Sean King and Bert Parks.

What seemed paramount to Rev. Daniels was leverage not enlightenment. For all of its civil rights lingo and the rhetoric of outrage and humiliation, The PNB Convention is after a financial settlement. Somebody will get stiffed because rumor-mongering must be a sacred calling.

The PNB Convention is playing the extortion game because it can. Tampa will be held hostage to further soiling of its reputation as a convention city unfriendly to blacks, whatever the merits of the Great Expectoration incident.

But give the Rev. Daniels credit for something. He is pursuing restitution, if not the truth, religiously.

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