Brother of slain teen says police harassed him

09/03/08 Seán Kinane
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In June, teenager Javon Dawson was shot twice in the back and killed by a St. Petersburg Police officer. Yesterday at school, his younger brother, Keon, was pulled out of class and his belongings were searched because the school received a tip that he had a gun.

Dawson’s family and supporters are calling it another example of the St. Pete Police harassing and intimidating people who witnessed his brother’s shooting.

At a press conference Wednesday morning at the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, Kobina Bantushango, who is the southeast regional representative of the International Democratic Peoples’ Uhuru Movement, said that what happened to 14-year-old Keon Dawson is only the latest example of the police pressure.

“The obvious intent of this action was to intimidate Keon and any other young people who would dare to speak up against the police coverup of their execution of Javon. The Police Department, the State Attorney Office and representatives of the media have explained witnesses’ hesitancy to make statements to the police as due to a so-called ‘no-snitch culture.’ In fact, the deep rift between the law enforcement agencies and the African community is a result of the ruthless code of intimidation and hostility carried out by the Police Department, Sheriff’s Department and State Attorney Office against the African community.”

Keon Dawson said the seventh-grade assistant and the school resource officer pulled him into the hallway on Tuesday and walked him to the office of Meadowlawn Middle School; there they searched his belongings.

“They had said ‘empty your pockets’ and they had searched my backpack. And then they asked me did I have a locker so I had took them to my gym locker. And then they had searched the gym locker."

But Dawson said that even though the principal told him he could go back to class, he was stopped from doing that by Meadowlawn’s police officer Kim Hensley.

“And then the police was like, ‘hold on, hold on. I’m going to walk you to my office so I can say why we got you for this.’ So I had went back to the police office, just me and the police, and she was like ‘we had a tip that you have guns.’ And I was like ‘I don’t have guns.’ And she was like trying to make me like say I had a gun, but just don’t bring it to school. And she was like ‘Please don’t bring it to school. Please don’t bring it to school.’ … She was just messing my words up.”

WMNF attempted to speak with Officer Hensley, but our request was denied. The mother of Keon and Javon Dawson, Ollie Godfrey, said her son was harassed by the school and by the police.

“I feel betrayed within the school and the police department.”

St. Petersburg Police Spokesperson Bill Proffitt said the police were not the source of the false claim that Keon Dawson had a gun.

WMNF requested an interview with Meadowlawn Middle School Principal Valencia Walker, but she did not return our call by deadline. Pinellas County Schools Director of Communications Andrea Zahn said the school correctly followed policies.

At the press conference, Keon wore a small laminated tag around his neck with a photograph of his late brother Javon. Their mother told WMNF that the school said they will no longer allow Keon to wear the tribute to his brother.

WMNF asked Keon said he could not wear the tag with a photograph of his late brother Javon.

Penny Hess, a member of the African Peoples’ Solidarity Movement, compared the police violence that happens continuously in the black community to the police violence against peaceful protesters and journalists at the Republican National Convention. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested on Monday, including Amy Goodman and other members of the media.

Hess compared St. Petersburg with Iraq, saying that although there is violence against civilians in both areas, the exoneration of police officer Terrence Nemeth contrasts with attempts at accountability for some U.S. personnel who have committed violence against Iraqi civilians.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is reviewing the shooting death of Javon Dawson following an investigation by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe in which the shooter, Officer Terence Nemeth, was cleared. The Justice for Javon Dawson Committee members said they will be in contact with the FDLE regarding their criticisms of McCabe’s investigation.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Meadowlawn Middle School

St. Pete Police

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