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Avert tragedy by teaching kids to respect authority

Published May 20, 2004

As an African-American living in south St. Petersburg, I cannot understand why the news media focus so much on the Uhurus when it comes to leadership in our community. These people do not speak for the majority of us. As a matter of fact, most people that I know vehemently oppose their 1960s-style philosophies and tactics.

As a community, we must teach our kids to understand and respect authority in all facets of their lives. Perhaps it could avoid tragic situations such as those that have occurred in the past.

I suggest that the Uhurus need to refocus their energies in a more mainstream fashion, working with more groups in our community, i.e., church, religious, social and civic, to make St. Petersburg a safer place for all its citizens.

-- Conell Pierce, St. Petersburg

Yeshitela gets too much coverage

Re: In Midtown, many prefer to speak for themselves, by Mary Jo Melone, May 14.

The reason Omali Yeshitela has a disproportional voice in the black community of St. Petersburg is the St. Petersburg Times. The editors have given him access as the community voice whenever he wants it. The more outrageous his statements, the more coverage he gets. This leads to more outrageous statements and, in situations like this, to more violence.

If "news" is defined as that which is interesting, I personally don't find intentionally outrageous overstatements by the politically motivated to be of interest.

Why not add a third front page, tucked into the advertising sections, for Yeshitela, Michael Moore and Al Sharpton?

-- John Messores, St. Petersburg

Praise for Mayor Baker

Public officials are sometimes confronted with situations that require leadership and temperance. During the recent disturbances, Mayor Rick Baker was presented with a situation that could have become far more damaging.

His calm leadership was instrumental in keeping a simmering situation from igniting into something far more explosive. The citizens of St. Petersburg are grateful to Mayor Baker for a job well done.

-- Charlie Crist, attorney general, Tallahassee

No police presence in Childs Park

Sadly, Mayor Rick Baker and Police Chief Chuck Harmon have become nothing but talking heads. I continue to hear, "enforce the law" and "protect our residents." As the residents of the Childs Park neighborhood know, this is nothing but endless chatter.

Childs Park recorded the last homicide for the city of St Petersburg in 2003 and recorded the first homicide for the city in 2004. So far this year, of the five homicides committed in the city, two have taken place in Childs Park. Homicides, gunfire, illegal street-level drug sales and the list goes on and on. And what response to we get from this mayor and this chief? Nothing! They seem to forget that, at least for the time being, we are still a part of this city.

Oddly enough, the residents of Childs Park have a better chance of seeing little green men from Mars than we doing of seeing the green uniform of a St. Petersburg Police officer. Or perhaps both are a figment of our imagination.

-- Gregory R. Pierce, St. Petersburg

Lewis' son has hard road ahead

Like the mayor and others, I have a genuine interest and concern for the son of the deceased (TyRon Lewis II). I am extremely pleased about the promise to create an educational fund to guarantee him a college education. However, please understand that this young boy is only 9 years old and has experienced a tremendous loss brought on by a series of unfortunate circumstances.

It is extremely difficult to go through the loss/grieving process without some type of outside help. This family should be encouraged to seek the best available ongoing professional mental health counseling for this young man. The approach is to put him in the best possible situation to grow up and become a productive citizen.

My plea is that the community will assist the Lewis family in seeking and accepting the necessary and help and support. Reconciliation and forgiveness is the ultimate answer and to this end I also suggest that all of the police officers involved should avail themselves of appropriate support and counseling.

I pray the best outcome for everyone involved.

-- Lonnie Stafford, Clearwater

Black life undervalued

Re: Jury finds city owes Lewis family nothing, May 15.

I was truly offended by the headline of the St. Petersburg Times article regarding the Lewis family's suit against the city. The wording of that headline, as well as the verdict itself, reflects the city administration and major media's disdain for the value of black life.

Unfortunately, the police use the legal argument that a vehicle is a deadly weapon. This same argument is being used by the Sheriff's Department in the recent shooting of Marquell McCullough. The law needs to be changed. There is a double standard within this law itself. Let's not forget Jennifer Porter, who used "a deadly weapon" to kill two young African-American children and then left the scene. Not only has the media come to her defense, the charges she faces are extremely lenient.

The same legal system allowed a jury to render a verdict in favor of the city in the Lewis family's civil suit against the city. The jury was only required to determine if Officer James Knight intended to shoot young TyRon Lewis. The jury did not have to determine if the act itself was negligent, and that is a problem.

On another front, Keith Stewart, a local political activist, is facing inciting-to-riot charges because he exercised his First Amendment right to oppose an incident of police brutality that he witnessed at BayWalk. If convicted, Stewart could face a five-year prison sentence.

The city of St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Baker, the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department and all the major media are responsible for this injustice. The police violence against the community must stop. The economic embargo against the black community must end. Then, we can all move forward.

-- Zoe Weir, St. Petersburg

Walk a mile in police shoes

I have to admit that, for the most part, several of your staff writers have surprised me with their words of support for the law-enforcement officers involved in the recent events occurring in our community. However, Howard Troxler's recent There's less kindling, but there's still a problem article of May 16 brought me back to reality. His assumptions - that Marquell McCullough's actions were "really stupid" and his "panicking" led to his death - are without merit. Unfortunate as it is, McCullough is dead because he tried to kill a law-enforcement officer - two law-enforcement officers, to be precise. That is neither really stupid nor panicky, and his words misrepresent in total the facts of the investigation.

Troxler further sought to trivialize the shooting death of an armed subject, citing the fact that "Pinellas deputies should have found a way not to kill a disturbed man who threw a knife at them." Perhaps Troxler should read the report of State Attorney Bernie McCabe, who found more than sufficient cause to justify their actions. He would have learned that the man stabbed and attempted to cut the throat of a home health-care nurse who was present to treat the mother of the suspect. He would have further learned that deputies used great restraint and caution while the suspect made repeated attempts to approach and stab them. Deputies further utilized less than lethal weapons (a pepper ball gun) to try and disarm the suspect before he threw one of two knives at a deputy, narrowing missing her face. I know of no rules of engagement that require police officers to be stabbed, maimed or killed in advance of using deadly force that might have possibly alleviated Troxler's concern for the suspect.

Before dismissing these actions as "stupid" or even offering his opinion on the matter without sufficient and available facts, perhaps Howard Troxler could put himself on the front lines alongside those law enforcement officers he seeks to second-guess, and then perhaps we can say that he walked a mile in our shoes and understands the issues we face.

Having just returned from Washington, D.C., this past week, where members of our nation's law-enforcement community honored 151 heroes who were killed in the line of duty in 2003, I found the lack of sensitivity alarming, not only for our police officers and sheriff's deputies but for the law-abiding citizens as well.

-- Tim Ingold, Largo

Understandable outrage

As a white person following the events of the past month in the Tampa Bay area, I can see that it's quite honestly no wonder that St. Petersburg's black community is so outraged. Without condoning the violent actions that took place against innocent bystanders in St. Petersburg last week, I do understand the furor that triggered this rioting to happen.

Marquell McCullough, whose callous killing at the hands of people who are supposed to protect us echoes that of TyRon Lewis' in 1996, might indeed have been a drug dealer who was doing harm to his community. However, if he had been white, I suspect that the sheriff's officers would have done what they should have done with any drug dealer, and just put the cuffs on him and thrown him into jail. Add this case to the recent Jennifer Porter hit-and-run case in Tampa, and you get a recipe for growing and understandable discontent in the black community. I am not a proponent of any type of violence, but I can understand why people in the Tampa Bay area are absolutely furious over what's happening in their community; that justifiable anger is what is behind the violence that took place last week.

If we as a white community persist in allowing these terrible acts of covert racism and killing to pass us by unpunished, then we are ultimately doomed to a continuous and ever-growing racial divide - with no end in sight for peace, equality, and genuine cooperation.

-- Michelle Kenoyer, Riverview

Confusing behavior

As a black man, I'm confused about something. Why is it that all year long we sit by and witness the continued slaughtering of black people, by black people (7,000 black-on-black murders every year) and give no more than passing notice to them? But on the comparatively few, rare occasions where a known drug dealer or other career criminal runs from police, rams police cruisers and officers so they have to shoot, we get so incensed that we begin to turn over cars and set buildings on fire? Then the really intelligent among us start looting and destroying businesses so our mothers can't shop in their own neighborhoods.

Are we really so sick as a society that we can't see the idiocy in this behavior?

-- Ray Hendricks, Palm Harbor

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