MIDTOWN RESIDENTS SPEAK OUT AT S.P. TOWN HALL MEETING - Lisa Marzilli06/14/04
A vocal group of concerned citizens of the midtown area of St. Petersburg gathered at the Wildwood Recreation Center on Saturday for a town hall meeting. The forum was organized by City Council member Earnest Williams, who represents District 6, which encompasses part of midtown Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a 5 and a half sq. mile area of central and south St. Petersburg. Elected officials included members of the City Council, County Commission and School Board, as well as Police Chief Chuck Harmon and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. Everyone agreed that St. Petersburg has proven its commitment to midtown to the tune of over $100 million in projects. MidtownÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seen its share of civil unrest, the latest came during a trial that was connected to the 1996 police shooting of a black teenager. In May, a jury rejected a $1 million civil claim against the city brought by the family of TyRon Lewis. Councilman Williams said that disturbances like those last month make investors nervous, and undo the economic progress being madeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(o.q...Ã¢â‚¬Å“moving forwardÃ¢â‚¬?) Candice Stutler is the owner of Downings Forge, a midtown metalwork business thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been in St. Petersburg since 1921 and on 34th St. since 1960. She told the panel her customers are afraid to come to her shopÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.(o.q.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬?afraid toÃ¢â‚¬?) Stutler said the media should emphasize the positive aspects of Midtown and stop focusing on the few that start the troubleÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.(o.q...Ã¢â‚¬?entire areaÃ¢â‚¬?) Ms. Shaheida, a long-time midtown business owner believes there is a lack of role models for young African Americans and said the black community has been sold out by business and community leadersÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(o.q.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬?store anymoreÃ¢â‚¬?) Conspicuously absent from the meeting were representatives of the International PeopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Democratic Uhuru movement who have long standing issues with city policing policies. WMNF asked Councilman Williams about the UhuruÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and WilliamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s said he would like to see them get more involved in Midtown redevelopmentÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.(o.qÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬?on thatÃ¢â‚¬?) Chrisshun Cox is president of the Melrose Ã¢â‚¬â€œMercy/Pine Acres neighborhood association. Visibly frustrated, she asked why the issue of drugs and crime hadnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been raised in almost 2 Ã‚Â½ hours of discussion. Cox then placed the blame for the continuing violence in Midtown on the shoulders of the UhruruÃ¢â‚¬â„¢sÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(o.q...Ã¢â‚¬?the same thingÃ¢â‚¬?) One of the last to speak was a local artist named Khnum. He told panel members that it was the negative media portrayals of African Americans that are working against black youthÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(o.q.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬?IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sayingÃ¢â‚¬?) Other issues that were raised were the importance of better educating young people, an area where many felt the city had failed their children - and the need for stronger parental responsibility. Councilman WilliamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s urged residents to roll up their sleeves and get involved. He noted it was easy to talk about problems but much harder to get people involved in solving them.