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Neighborhood notebook

March sends a clear message to drug dealers

The St. Petersburg Drug Fighters march, chant around and chalk neighborhoods police identify as having a drug problem.

By ANDREW MEACHAM
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Once in front of the house police had targeted for an anti-drug march Wednesday, the graffiti writers in yellow T-shirts wasted no time. Jeanne Shearer, 45, and daughter Christina, 14, dropped to their knees at 240 13th St. N and began to send their messages in yellow chalk on the sidewalk and in the street.

"See ya in court March 24th, Grandma!!!" Christina wrote, and included a smiley face underneath.

On the street her mother wrote, "Hello again Grandma, we are back! Drug dealing has got to go."

The pair added at least a dozen similar messages in the 40 minutes a group of 10 marchers chanted outside the home of Johnnie Mae Turner, 59, who was arrested in January for operating a house of public nuisance.

Neighborhood planner Andy Garr led the group with nonstop chants into a sideways-cocked bullhorn:

Standin' tall and lookin' good,

Takin' back the neighborhood,

Wo-wo-wo-yeah

Community Police Officers Roy Olsen and Steve Fuller transported marchers in a police van and tagged along in an unmarked police cruiser.

The T-shirts identify the marchers as belonging to the St. Petersburg Drug Fighters, also known as the St. Petersburg chapter of Turn Around America. The city restarted the marches a year ago following altercations with police and residents in 13th Street Heights.

Garr worked in Philadelphia with Turn Around America founder Herman Wrice, who died in 2000, and wanted to continue that mission in St. Petersburg.

As with several of the marchers, Garr's mission is personal. He said he and Wrice attended 57 funerals of juveniles in Philadelphia due to drug-related deaths.

"We could tell who the funeral directors were by the makeup job they did," said Garr, 53. Besides disrupting potential drug buys, Garr believes that attacking an area's drug problem breathes life back into dreams of economic development.

Turner could not be reached for comment. She appears in court March 24.

After a bullhorn-chanting walk down 11th Avenue S, the marchers came upon a few residents around Seventh Street S and 14th Avenue S.

After a pair of youth walked away from a tree where they had been sitting, officers began looking at the tree with flashlights. Soon they were talking to one of the boys, whom Olsen said was 16. Moments later the boy was being led to the squad car in handcuffs, and Olsen had produced a small plastic pouch of marijuana.

Jeanne and Christine Shearer went to work in the street with the chalk: "The drug store is closed."

Some 375 Turn Around America sites exist in the U.S., Garr said. Marchers remember their events with stickers for every indignity they have suffered, or every accomplishment. The stickers go on their white hardhats, or sometimes on baseball caps.

There's a pair of feet you earn simply for marching; a tow truck if your car gets towed; notes if you make up a chant; and a bird sticker if someone gives you the middle finger. Christina Shearer said she must have 75 stickers, at least. Her mother said she has at least 100.

Olsen said that vigil sites must be identified by police as places where drug arrests have occurred, or buys have been made by undercover officers.

* * *

Greater Woodlawn's Walk Your Dog/Fight Crime march starts at 8 p.m. Saturday for residents in or out of the neighborhood. The walk will start at Wilson's Book World, 2394 Dr. M.L. King Jr. St. N. Walkers will head south to 13th Avenue N, then cross Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and walk back north. Wilson said walkers are encouraged to bring flashlights and video cameras to record suspicious activity. Dogs are optional.

Meetings

BARTLETT PARK: 6 p.m. Thursday. Frank Pierce Recreation Center, 2000 Seventh St. S. Traffic-calming plan.

CAMPBELL PARK: 7 p.m. Wednesday. Association headquarters, 1525 16th St. S. Neighborhood plan.

CHILDS PARK: 7 p.m. Monday. Childs Park Recreation Center, 4301 13th Ave. S. Crime in the neighborhood; neighborhood beautification.

DISSTON HEIGHTS: 7 p.m. Tuesday. Gladden Park Recreation Center, 3901 30th Ave. N. Chief Deputy James Coats, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

EAGLE CREST: 7 p.m. Wednesday. St. Petersburg Catholic High School cafeteria, 6333 Ninth Ave. N. Wells Fargo Mortgage Co. representative Dan Woody, on the differences between refinancing and home equity loans.

HIGHLAND OAKS: 6 p.m. Thursday. James B. Sanderlin Family Services Center, 2335 22nd Ave. S. Tommy Lampley, executive director, Community Involvement Team, Inc.

HISTORIC PARK STREET: 6:30 p.m. Monday. Admiral Farragut Academy, DeSeta Chapel, 501 Park St. N. Fifth Avenue Fire Department.

MEL-TAN HEIGHTS: 6 p.m. Tuesday. Bristle Temple Church, 2901 18th Ave. S.

MELROSE-MERCY/PINE ACRES: 7 p.m. Tuesday. 20th Street Church of Christ, 820 20th St. S. Open forum.

NORTH KENWOOD: 7:30 p.m. Monday. Edward White Hospital auditorium, 2299 Ninth Ave. N. Times correspondent Andrew Meacham.

PALMETTO PARK: 7 p.m. Tuesday. Moore's AME Chapel, 3037 Fairfield Ave. S. Open forum.

THIRTEENTH STREET HEIGHTS: 3 p.m. Saturday. Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S. Officer elections.

MLK BUSINESS DISTRICT: 1 p.m. Wednesday. Chatterbox Restaurant, 56 Dr. M.L. King St. N. Open forum.

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