Many African-Americans are frustrated that Midtown is seen by many as a perpetually violent community, where the Uhurus protest group and its leader Omali Yeshitela call the shots. Midtown native Omega C. Nero, a homemaker and the wife of a retired St. Petersburg police officer, is one of these frustrated residents. During a question and answer session with Times columnist Bill Maxwell, Mrs. Nero speaks her mind.
Q: In light of the most recent violence in Midtown, what do you think of Omali Yeshitela and his presence there?
A: Omali does not speak for me, and he doesn't speak for a lot of other people. I am not a part of his little thing, his little crew. They raise Cain, and it all falls to the ground. Sometimes I wonder what's wrong with him, if he's all wrapped together. He pretends he's so out with the white man. The white man, or anyone else, doesn't owe us anything. We owe it to ourselves.
We hurt our own people. Why would you go and destroy somebody's property, period? I don't care what color you are because it causes the insurance to go up. It's a saddening, sickening situation. The Uhurus have something negative to say about everything good that somebody is trying to do. They want you to think that they're better, that they're doing something for the community. There's no backbone there whatsoever. It's just them wanting to stir up the devil. Nothing good comes of it.
Q: That leads me to the next question. Do you know Dr. Elinor Miranda? She and her family were attacked in their SUV during the violence a few weeks ago.
A: Yes, I know her. When my daughter's baby was born, she went to Dr. Miranda. She helps black people - free medical attention. Why were those young people out there throwing missiles at Dr. Miranda and her family? Were they trying to kill them? Was that their purpose? And the newspaper stated that some girl said, "We got the white bitch's car." Now, what sense does that make?
If they're trying to make TyRon Lewis a martyr, he isn't. The same for Marquell McCullough. He's not a martyr, either. When the police tell you to stop, you stop. Period. Trying to hurt or kill Dr. Miranda and her family won't bring these two young black men back.
Q: Omali Yeshitela believes that so-called "police containment" is the biggest problem in Midtown. In other words, Midtown is a mini police state where blacks are held down and cannot create economic development. What's your response?
A: Like I said, what Omali says doesn't make sense to me. What good are police officers if they can't enforce the law? If they can't enforce the law, let's tell them to go home and stay there so that we can let the Uhurus run things and be in charge of law enforcement. That's scary just thinking about it. I will call the police if something wrong is going on.
The truth is that Rick Baker is a good mayor, and I see some good things happening here for black people economically. Some people are leery about the Kash n' Karry being built in this area, but it would help a lot of elderly people who aren't able to get out and shop at the big supermarkets. They have to go to these little neighborhood stores that eat you up as far as the prices. If a big store comes in, it would make it a lot better for people who don't have transportation. You get a cab, it costs you an arm and a leg. You stand around with bags waiting a long time for a bus. A lot of these people are on fixed or limited incomes. A Kash n' Karry would be a blessing.
Q: In your estimation, what is the most pressing problem for African-Americans in Midtown?
A: Parenting our children. I don't think the parents have any control over the kids. I really don't. They're letting the kids tell them what to do, not what they're supposed to be doing. A lot of them are babies having babies, so they don't know. Nobody taught them, so they don't know what to teach when theirs came along. Parents need to demand more obedience, and they need to set good examples themselves.
Many kids just do their own thing. The children need discipline. Many black parents nowadays think their kids are too good and too important to be disciplined. They have gone haywire. The children need to get an education. Even if they don't go to college, they can get a high school diploma. It would help them so much. They can take a trade if they don't want to go to college. They'll be able to better themselves.
What good is it if you're out there screaming up and down the road, yelling profanity, fighting and carrying on? What good is that? What is it getting them in society? Nothing but more trouble. Some of them can't even read at the third-grade level. But you can't tell them anything. They know it all. They don't need to be involved in violence. And once black children get in trouble and get a criminal record, they're pretty much finished - unless they win the lottery.
Q: Many people believe that Midtown's reputation for riots and the violence are delaying, if not destroying, any real hopes of economic development. Do you agree?
A: Yes. When TyRon Lewis was killed, what sense did it make to do all that burning? Almost all of it was in the black areas. These businesses help black people. As long as Badcock's been there on Ninth Street, how many black people have not been to that store and bought something? I've bought something there. So why did they want to burn that place down?
And Dave's Market? Yes, some of these places in the black communities are owned by people of another color. But they made it convenient for black people to have somewhere to shop without having to hop the bus or catch a cab. You may pay a little bit more for it, but it's a convenience for people.
How many of those Uhurus have made it convenient for the people I'm talking about? I think they're out for themselves and themselves only. Just like the Uhurus want to make a dollar, these other people - Badcock and Dave's Market - who have their businesses in Midtown want to make a dollar, too. Leave these people alone. They aren't bothering you. Don't bother them.
Q: Your home is in heart of Midtown and is surrounded by some rough areas. Why have you stayed here all these years, when you obviously could have moved away to an upscale community?
A: This was my breeding ground. I was born and raised here - in this house. My mother gave it to me, and I love it. The church is right across the street. This is my homestead. We're a skip, a hop and a jump from 22nd Street, but we don't have any problems around here. We don't have a lot of violence and break-ins. As a matter of fact, I don't know when there's been a break-in. We respect one another, and we try to help one another. It's all about respect. That's all it is: respect.