ST PETE'S POLICE CHIEF MEETS WITH ANGRY BLACK RESIDENTS-Andrew Stelzer04/01/04
Last night, the police chief of St Petersburg came to a community meeting, to listen to the complaints of citizens about the Saint Petersburg policeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s practices of unfairly targeting and harassing black people. WMNFÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Andrew Stelzer was there and filed this report --------------
About 50 people came to the Uhuru house in South St Petersburg to talk to police Chief Chuck Harmen about problems of racist behavior by police officers. Several members of the Uhuru organization, a group that advocates against racist laws, and for the self-determination of African people, spoke to open the meeting. Chimuranga Waller was one them.
ACT WALLER (no shortage of cops).
In his first statements to the group Chuck Harmen responded by pointing out that black people commit violence against each other in the city. This was an indicator of his attitude throughout the 2-hour meeting in which Chief Harman did not admit any racist behavior by police, or accept any blame for the problems the citizens were pointing out to him.
Harmen also said he could not discuss any open cases; many people were upset about an incident on St PetersburgÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s baywalk where Keith Stewart, a black man, was arrested and charged for inciting to riot because he asked some police why they were violently arresting another black man. Stewart said the incident has made him even more mistrusting of the police.
ACT STEWART (when we seeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦)
About 60 people attended the meeting, and almost half of them spoke. Some of the complaints citizens had were about the police taking peoples license plates numbers both outside the UHURU house at their weekly meetings, and last Saturday at the coliseum during a party for Boxing Champion Winky Wright. Other complaints included the fact that police harass black people, especially men when they are standing or walking on the street, especially in groups. When Harman was asked whether people were allowed to observe the police in action, and videotape and photograph them, the chief said that was allowed. This was one of the few questions Harman answered; most of the time he said he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have enough information to address complaints.
Many residents grew frustrated with Chief HarmonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s refusal to answer questions, and many of them simply made statements, saying they had given up on HarmonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s willingness to speak to them openly and honestly. Berland Martin was one of those who expressed his anger and exasperation.
At least 10 other police officers were at the meeting, 4 of them in uniform, the rest in suits and ties. Kitty Riley, one of the 15 or so non-black people who attended the discussion, called the cops cowards, and said that law enforcement is not equally applied in white neighborhoods.
After the meeting, the chief said he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think most of the residentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ complaints were valid. Instead, he claimed that they were still angry about several racially motivated murders by the police, which have happened in St Petersburg over the last 10 years.
SOUND chief interview
Chief Harman had to leave at 830; afterwards Abasi Baratu spoke to the crowd about what had happened.
ACT Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was hoping. No one expected anything else than what happenedÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬?
The Uhurus are hosting a convention on how to police your own neighborhoods on April 17th and 18th. For more information call, 727-502-0575
For WMNF news, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m Andrew Stelzer