Saturday night, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker was given a farewell celebration at Demens Park, courtesy of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. The event was protested by homeless activists who believe that Mayor Baker’s record deserves scrutiny for his mistreatment of the homeless population.
A small bridge and a waterway separated the attendees of Mayor Baker’s farewell party from the homeless protesters outside. Tickets for the farewell celebration ranged from $125 up to $10,000. No one was allowed into the park without a ticket. Rev. Bruce Wright, with the Refuge and the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, helped organize the protest.
Wright said the lack of a designated free speech zone for the protest outside the event was the cause of tension between the protesters and local officials.
WMNF attempted to speak with Mayor Baker and his associates, but was denied entry to the park along with the general public. Major Didi Karen with the St. Pete Police Department was one of the officers who denied the protesters park access.
In January 2007 St. Pete police slashed the tents of 25 homeless people. Rev. Wright said that was one of the reasons for Saturday’s protest. Wright said that several law firms are representing the local homeless population to address the abuse.
Greta Hunzicker attended the protest with St. Pete for Peace, holding a sign that read “Freedom should be more than a pretext for war.” St. Pete for Peace is a non-partisan anti-war group founded in January 2003, and brings awareness to the atrocities they say our government is committing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Iraq.
Hunzicker was amazed at the disparity of resources allotted for the Baker event compared to the protest.
Benjamin Araya brought food for the homeless from Food Not Bombs, a direct action group that shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in more than 1,000 cities around the world every week to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment.