Uhurus offer reward to police who break code of silence and report crimes of fellow officers

04/29/09 Seán Kinane
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Last week, St. Petersburg Police announced a “gun bounty” program offering a $1,500 reward to anyone who provides information leading to an arrest and weapons charge plus the recovery of an assault weapon.

This morning, in front of police headquarters, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement announced their own $1,500 bounty program. The Uhurus are encouraging police officers to come clean with what they know about crimes committed by their fellow officers. Chimurenga Waller, the international president of the Uhuru Movement, says they will reward officers who “do the right thing.”

“We have found money to now say: replace the code of silence within the police department with a code of Justice. And that code of Justice would be for cops to come forward, testify, so we can start locking them up for all these killings of black people in our community. Because we’re not just against the violence between ourselves – we are vehemently against that – but we’re against all violence in the African community. And that is a broader picture. And we have to be clear that all the violence comes from the oppression and from the poverty and that means that the violence always starts in the center of where the state sits – they sit in the office of power.”

Many members of the police, media, and community in St. Petersburg have long lamented a “code of silence” that keeps members of the African-American community from “snitching” on people who commit crimes. Waller says that the blue code of silence among police officers is just as binding. But St. Petersburg Police spokesperson Bill Proffitt disagrees. “No, sir, that’s an unfounded statement,” Proffitt said.

A study at the beginning of this decade by the National Institute of Ethics noted that the widespread police code of silence “is Prompted by Excessive Use of Force Incidents more than for any Other Specific Circumstance.”

Kobina Bantushango, the St. Petersburg president of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, says the bounty the Uhurus are offering is an opportunity for St. Pete police officers to break that code of silence.

“This is not a code of silence that has been in secret, this is a code of silence that has been upheld by the police department because they never saw it beneficial for the police department to be telling on one another, but instead to protect one another. And we’re saying that we want justice. And for all the murders that have came in the African community from the police department, we’re saying that we’re offering the police themselves to come forward – if they believe in justice, if they want justice to come forward – and break this code of silence.”

Last June, 17-year-old Javon Dawson died after being shot twice in the back by St. Petersburg Police officer Terrance Nemeth, who said Dawson pointed a gun at him while running away. Officer Nemeth was cleared of all wrongdoing following investigations by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney and the St. Petersburg Police.

Bantushango says that one reason for the Uhuru’s bounty offer is so the community can learn what really happened in cases of police shooting citizens.

“In the case of Javon Dawson, where over fifteen officers were on the scene where they actually witnessed a murder. Where they witnessed Javon Dawson get shot twice in the back and no officer ‘saw’ anything. So we’re saying, ‘break that code of silence’ and bring justice to the African community and show that they really believe in what they’re speaking.”

At least three other African-Americans have been killed by police officers in St. Pete in the last 13 years, and Bantushango says he wants justice in those cases as well.

“We extend this bounty to the sheriff’s deputies that were involved in the murder of Marquell McCullough [in 2004], when the [police] cruiser cameras mysteriously did not work when he was shot. We extend the bounty to [police officer] Sandra Minor who witnessed [police officer] James Knight execute TyRon Lewis in broad daylight [in 1996]. We also offer this bounty to any officer who will provide testimony resulting in a conviction of the deputies that murdered Jarrell Walker as he slept on the sofa [in 2005].”

Bill Proffitt, St. Petersburg Police Department spokesperson, does not think the Uhuru’s bounty program will uncover any police misconduct.

“Our response is that we thoroughly investigate all officer-involved shootings and any other allegation against a police officer. And those investigations are open to the public once they are completed. And to date, I’m not aware of any such complaints or criticisms against our investigations.”

St. Pete’s gun bounty offer was partially in response to the death earlier this month of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton. She was killed when her home was hit with more than 50 bullets. The bounty is funded mainly through the police department's forfeiture fund and donations to Crime Stoppers. In addition, some current and former corporate CEOs have donated to the program.

But Chimurenga Waller thinks the money would be better spent on a public policy of economic development, especially during the continuing economic disaster.

“The police offer of a $1,500 bounty for informants to tell on people with guns and get a conviction on them, we believe one, that’s sort of incredible in face of the poverty. 71% of the African population in the city of St. Petersburg living at or below the poverty line -- that they say $1,500 per informant, that’s just incredible that you would find money to do that.”

Because of the career risks involved if a police officer breaks the “blue code of silence,” Waller left the door open to increasing the amount of the Uhuru’s bounty.

“We will do that because we think it would be worth it. Because I think it would be a real serious statement -- not only to the other police officers about what the police supposed to represent. I think it would be a big statement to give confidence to the African community that the Police are actually seeking justice.”

Police officers who wish to provide confidential information about crimes committed by a fellow officer can call 727-821-6620.

International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement

St. Petersburg Police Department

National Institute of Ethics report on police code of silence

Previous WMNF News coverage of TyRon Lewis

Previous WMNF News coverage of Javon Dawson

State Attorney report on investigation into shooting of Javon Dawson

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