The Tampa Police Department (TPD) is honoring the “Fearless Four” and their story with a mural inside TPD’s headquarters that is to be unveiled on April 3. Their story is remarkable for standing up to racism and braving discrimination to change the racial attitudes of law enforcement across the country.
WFLA News recounted the events and the significant trial initiated by the “Fearless Four” that shed a light on Black officers’ struggle against racism in law enforcement.
The four former officers, Frank Joe, Lewis Rufus, James Dukes and Clarence Nathan sat together over coffee to reflect on how when they joined the police department back in the late ’60s and ’70s in a primarily White department, they would encounter the word “Negro” every day from colleagues and superiors.
“That racial slur, they would go over the radio with that all the time,” Nathan said. “They’d say ‘I’m chasing a N**** male, but when you confront them they say Negro.”
Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black police officers had to deal with racism every day. According to the four, they were “hated” by their White colleagues.
Nearly 50 years ago, Black officers were only assigned to specific areas of the city, and were not as well-trained as White officers. Instead, they would go on patrol without any formal training.
Eventually, the four got tired of putting up with the racism and inequality, and they decided to draft a discrimination complaint that eventually got picked up by the Atlanta DOJ.
“To hear your supervisor and others in that room using the ‘N-word,’ we got tired of it, when I say we, the four of us,” Duke said.
The DOJ took two years to conduct their investigation, all the while the men were dealing with rising levels of hatred in their department, but it was worth it.
Two years after the federal lawsuit was filed, the DOJ concluded that TPD and the city of Tampa were guilty of violating anti-racism and discrimination laws. In 1976, the four men heard the good news about the case.
After the victory, the city and the police department changed significantly. The word “Negro” could no longer be used, and Blacks could get the same training and opportunities as Whites in law enforcement.
It meant a lot to the brave four men who put their career on the line for change.
“We knew we would benefit if we won, but to change the entire structure of the Hillsborough county government, the city of Tampa, the nation, had no idea,” Duke said.
“When I joined the police department, I said I would do something that would help not just me, the entire world and other young Black police officers. I also wanted to do something to make my Great Grandparents, Grandparents and parents proud.”
Now, the doors of the law enforcement profession are opened wide for minorities, but the “Fearless Four” still think there can be improvements in 2021.
“The Capitol on the 6th of January,” Nathan said. “There’s no way they would let Black people do that and live. There’s a double standard when it comes to law enforcement and that has to change.”