Uhuru activists want St. Pete Police out of their neighborhoods for good

05/03/13 Janelle Irwin
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Activists from the Uhuru are demanding that St. Pete Police officers remove themselves from black communities. During a protest in front of the police station today, nine people spoke out against the agency for what they call terrorizing black neighborhoods.

“The street crimes unit is a special unit of the police department that act as armed thugs in the African community.”

That’s Chimerenga Waller with the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement. Waller led the group in chants as two men – one white and one black – held a banner with the photos of four African American boys killed during clashes with police.

They say two black teenagers who are accused of stealing a car were shot by officers last month. Police say that 19-year-old Shaquille Sweat and 15-year-old Tyeisha Long were shot after Sweat tried to drive into officers. Waller claims that is a common excuse used by St. Petersburg Police officials to justify injuring or killing people in the black community.

“We believe that our community – the African community – values life above all else. We value it more than cars, we value it more than our houses. We value life and nobody can tell us that it’s justified that our children are getting shot in the back because of what they claim was a stolen car.”

In 1996 police shot and killed 18-year-old Tyron Lewis after he allegedly tried to run them over with a car. Waller claims there are dozens of eyewitnesses who refute that claim. Lewis’s death led to riots in St. Pete that ended in numerous arrests, fires and injuries.

“We are not being served by a police force that is shooting our teenagers in the back. We would be better off without them anywhere in the black community. So, we demand their immediate withdraw. So, we don’t see how it’s in our interest to have the police there and we don’t see how you can have a happy medium if the police are framing our people up, violating our rights and shooting our children in the back.”

Waller claims police brutality disproportionately affects black communities all over the country. But during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, mostly white and middle class neighborhoods in suburban areas in Massachusetts were locked down by militarized police forces. Waller said that can be explained.

“There’s a kind of voluntary martial law where the white people don’t feel an affront by that. Where in the black community, we are constantly under martial law. Everyday, it doesn’t happen just when there’s a bombing; it happens everyday when the police come through our community saying ‘you get me in a corner’ and ‘you tried to run us over.’ So, our community is constantly under attack. There’s not special circumstances where they decide to attack black people.”

Six of the nine protesters were white. Jesse Nevel is with the Uhuru Solidarity movement.

“We’re out here today to stand in solidarity with the black community’s demand for an end to the public policy of police containment and for economic development, not for police containment. And we recognize, as the Uhuru movement is saying, there are two Americas in this country. There’s one experienced by those of us in the white community at the expense of the reality of police terror and constant war and poverty and violence imposed on the black community in this country.”

A spokesperson for the St. Petersburg Police Department declined to comment on the protester’s allegations of police terror in black neighborhoods. He said the shooting of the two teenagers last month is under internal investigation.

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