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Uhurus went too far in destroying holiday display

Published October 23, 2004

Re: Halloween display seen as symbol of hate, Oct. 20.

Let me get this straight: A local high school student calls Uhuru leader Omali Yeshitela to report a hanging Frankenstein dummy, which is allegedly racially offensive. Yeshitela investigates and has a history flashback, seeing not a Frankenstein dummy, but a black man hanging from a noose.

As it turns out, the decoration is on the fence-enclosed private property of another, which means nothing to Yeshitela.

While police are there trying to peacefully resolve the issue by attempting to contact the property owner, Yeshitela and his followers, in a lame attempt to resurrect the infamous 1960s mural incident at City Hall, decide to use vigilantism by trespassing on private property and destroying the Halloween decoration, leaving a mess for the property owner to clean up.

What can be more sinister and hateful than the actions of Yeshitela and his followers? As long as Yeshitela continues to harbor and demonstrate hate from the past, there will never be any moving forward, leaving one to wonder who the real dummy in the story is.

-- J.W. "Jack" Soule, Pinellas Park

Different rules for Uhurus

Re: Halloween display seen as symbol of hate.

Okay, maybe I can understand how a hanging Frankenstein is offensive to someone. But I certainly think the bigger picture should be Omali Yeshitela's lack of regard for private property.

Does this mean that every time I am offended by sexist signs or billboards, I am allowed to deface the offending object without legal repercussions? Women have long been considered "property" and continue to suffer from a sexist system that allows violence against us to go unpunished. Many of us believe that all the demeaning symbols of women further degrade us and promote a continued environment of violence and second-class citizenship for women. However, this doesn't give us the right to invade someone's private property and deface that property. How about approaching the person and asking him or her to remove the offending material? In this case, that would have worked beautifully, as the homeowner was a fair and reasonable person who had no idea she was being offensive to any group. But then Yeshitela wouldn't have made the papers.

I guess there are different rules for Yeshitela and his followers. They certainly give any group seeking to make changes in the "system" a bad name.

I admire the homeowner for her gracious handling of an unacceptable situation. May "Bob" rest in peace!

-- Anne Conklin, Largo

Scarred by history's wounds

In response to the Oct. 20 article, Halloween display seen as symbol of hate, depending on whose vantage point one is writing from, a more accurate heading could have been, "Symbol of hate seen as Halloween display." Although I appreciate the fact that the creative hands who put such an offensive effigy together sincerely apologized, such intention does not soothe the abhorrent wounds of recent history.

Some have the luxury of ignorant bliss in the name of holiday celebration. Others of us carry the onerous reminder of the value placed on the lives of those who birthed us under the most hostile of circumstances. I am relieved to know that Omali Yeshitela and others refuse, as many of us do, to allow such forms of violence, albeit unintentional and symbolic, to imbue the public streets of St. Petersburg.

-- Nyasha Mutunhu, St. Petersburg

A fine example for youngsters

Re: Halloween display seen as symbol of hate.

What a fine example Omali Yeshitela and the Uhurus are setting for the young black people in St. Petersburg!

-- Nanette Standfast, St. Petersburg

Imaginations ran wild

Re: Halloween display seen as symbol of hate.

I am completely outraged after reading about the Uhuru members' criminal actions in destroying a family's Halloween display - all while St. Pete's Finest reportedly watched. What a wild stretch of the imagination on behalf of Omali Yeshitela and his partners in terrorism to conclude that a hanged effigy of Frankenstein as a Halloween prop was based on the "history of hanging African people."

For 10 years I have been hanging a skeleton for Halloween. It had a pirate hat for some years. I've since lost the hat. Now I guess hanging my skeleton will be looked upon as a hate crime in St. Petersburg. Give me a break! Yeshitela should expand his knowledge of history well back before American slavery and abuse so that he can appreciate that hanging was used throughout the ages, and for many reasons other than race.

Let's not forget the effective protection of property by our police in this instance. As the officer was in his car, he watched the gang trespass and destroy private property. That type of passive enforcement doesn't rate a union contract pay increase in my view.

Finally, I am disheartened that the victims were compelled to apologize to the perpetrators; however, I respect their stance. While the victims don't want to see charges pressed, it is up to the state attorney to seriously consider this breach of peace and act appropriately.

-- Larry Patterson, St. Petersburg

So much for property protection

Re: Halloween display seen as symbol of hate.

After reading the story about the members of the Uhuru gang tearing down the Watson family's Halloween decoration, I thought surely there must be a misprint. A St. Petersburg police officer sits in his vehicle and watches a crime take place, then does nothing because "without a victim, we don't have a crime."

That makes all of us feel very safe and secure, knowing that when our property is being vandalized when we are not at home, the police can do nothing but sit and watch. As for Omali Yeshitela's statement that "the issue of private property holds no special mystique," it only emphasizes the "police-are-afraid-of-us attitude" this racist group has.

I guess the St. Petersburg police don't understand what "to protect and serve" really means. I guess all of us law-abiding citizens will have to protect ourselves and our property because we cannot count on the St. Petersburg police.

-- Larry Janssen, St. Petersburg

What happened to Halloween?

I remember my childhood, when Halloween was a time children would let their imaginations loose, dress up in a costume of their favorite spook or Hollywood character and roam the neighborhood streets going from home to home saying "trick or treat." I remember the Halloweens when you could see scores of children roaming the neighborhood streets playing and laughing in their costumes because it was a night of fun. But something has happened. Someone has decided that this isn't good for the children. They say that it is teaching the children to beg. They tell a child dressed like a cowboy that he can't carry his toy gun because it incites violence. They tell another child he cannot dress like a bat because it offends some religions. Another adult trespasses on private property and tears up a child's display because it offends him.

Face it, people: If everything in the past Halloweens was bad, how did we baby boomers turn out so well? I grew up with toy guns, ghosts and goblins, witches, Draculas and Frankensteins, as did my friends. All of us became professionals. Where is the damage that you're so afraid will happen to the children? What happened to our sense of humor? How did we become overly serious? Why did we take the fun from a child's holiday?

-- Kerry Brannen, Tarpon Springs

Homeowners shouldn't have to pay

Re: For better schools, editorial, Oct. 15.

Better schools? Really?

Sarasota residents are not happy with having their property taxes raised. This was told to me by Sarasota residents. Now we think that throwing good money after bad in Pinellas County is wise? Your editorial missed its mark.

Get the money from another source, not the beleaguered homeowner who has repairs, astronomical house and health insurance costs and has strangers in his or her neighborhood because of choice. The median income of nearly $41,000 with summers off doesn't sound like chump change to me.

Maybe the administrators should pare down their ranks? Maybe $40,000 spent in transporting students is excessive? You should do more homework, St. Petersburg Times, before you come down on the side of silliness.

-- Harriet P. Sherwood, Clearwater

Symptom of a problem Legislature

Re: For better schools.

At best, raising the property tax is a Band-Aid solution to the underfunding of our schools.

While I fully support quality education and competitive salaries for teachers, I am concerned that we've grown so accustomed to the Legislature's lack of accountability that we dismiss it with "providing the necessary money is not likely to happen soon."

We would do well to follow Howard Troxler's advice. Vote them out of office and choose candidates who are responsive to the voters. Then hold them accountable, expose their votes, keep after them. By passively agreeing to this increase, we are allowing the Legislature to continue its arrogant path of ignoring both the voters and its constitutionally prescribed responsibilities.

-- Bonnie Holliday, Palm Harbor

Teachers deserve a living wage

Re: Are teachers underpaid?, Oct. 17.

Thank you for your insightful article. I have been waiting and waiting for someone to write about the long hours the good teachers work. I would like to correct one important point, however: The majority of the jobs to which you compared teacher pay do not require a college degree. To teach in the state of Florida, you must first acquire a bachelor's degree and then continue to take classes to maintain a valid teaching certificate, unlike many of the jobs used to compare teacher pay.

Morale for teachers is at an all-time low. On the one hand, we are told we are professionals who must be held accountable for what we teach the children. On the flip side, we are treated as if the job we do is not important enough to earn a wage that ensures survival.

We teachers have no problem with accountability and are very aware that we are doing our jobs well. We just want some acknowledgement from the state and our community that we perform a job that is worth a living wage. Is this too much to ask?

-- Cathie Chapman, Clearwater

Give teachers overtime pay

Re: Are teachers underpaid?

The front-page article about the referendum to raise funds for teacher salaries and extra programs in our school was aptly placed. It should be a priority to fund our education programs. They do have a direct impact on the future of our city, property values and well-being as a community.

As a teacher, I put out fires, cure ills and protect the safety and security of my students along with trying to provide a world-class education on a shoestring budget. The difference between teachers' salaries and those of nurses, firefighters and police officers is that teachers are expected to put in overtime but with no overtime pay. Ask any nurse or police officer: The overtime pay is a huge incentive to work extra hours, and many of them depend on that to meet their financial obligations.

I have worked as a teacher in Pinellas County for more than 17 years. I have always believed that the rewards of teaching were much more than the check I pick up every two weeks. The financial reality of paying college tuition for my children has made me look very seriously at other professions.

Some people say, "Just don't put in the extra hours." The reality is, if you are going to be an effective teacher, you must put in the extra hours. So how about overtime pay for teachers? I think the raise from the referendum would be more cost effective, but either one pays the bills.

-- Anne Weller, St. Petersburg

Earning their pay

Re: Are teachers underpaid?

Responding to Ron Matus' excellent report in the St. Petersburg Times, I can think of one thing: Perhaps we should start paying teachers for what they do and consider the length of time required to do it. Staying at the workplace after hours, taking work home and spending their own money should enter the equation.

Spread these facts over what they are being paid now, and I'm sure the results will be surprising. So perhaps we could start with paying them what they earn now.

-- Hartley Steeves, Tampa

Barely getting by

Re: Are teachers underpaid?

To answer your question, "Are teachers underpaid?" I reply with a resounding YES!

While our children were babies, we lived solely off my husband's teaching salary. As a family of four, our income was low enough to qualify for WIC. When my daughter started school, I realized our income was low enough to qualify for reduced lunches.

Annual raises are not adjusted for inflation, cost of living increases or merit. We found that over time, his salary could not keep up with the higher cost of utilities, gas, phone and property taxes, regardless of the amount of effort he put into his job.

To add insult to injury, the out-of-pocket cost for health insurance next year in Pinellas will be more than his salary increase. My husband will now be bringing home less money this year than last.

For critics who claim that teachers "only" work a seven-hour day and have all summer to get another job, there aren't too many employers that will hire someone full-time for just eight weeks. Besides, we would then need full-time care for our two children, effectively working to pay for day care.

Thank goodness my husband didn't become a teacher because of the pay. But he may someday leave the profession for that reason.

-- Christy Nelson, St. Petersburg

The bargain of a lifetime

As a teacher in Pinellas County for 35 years, I'd like to comment on the article in Sunday's Times, Are teachers underpaid? I want to thank the Times for this thorough discussion. The writer does a better job than most attempts at describing the typical workday of a schoolteacher. The story paints a fairly accurate picture of how incredibly hectic the nonstop workload is, but printed words can't really tell the story.

Words can't describe the pressure of having dozens of needy students literally surrounding you, hour after hour, like a nest full of hungry baby birds, competing for your attention when you cannot possibly give all of them all of the attention they need. And words can't truly convey the reality that the intensity of a teacher's workday is not just some of the time, but every day, day after day, week after week, month after month. There is no break from that intensity, except for the vacation periods. Without those, teachers would burn out in a couple of years, as many do despite the vacation breaks. Perhaps with the exception of some jobs in the medical profession, there are virtually no jobs in the private sector workplace that compare with the day-to-day intensity of teaching school.

Are teachers underpaid? You bet they are. Like other teachers, I wouldn't have stayed in this profession if I didn't like working with high school kids, but the real fact is taxpayers are getting the bargain of a lifetime for what they pay their public school teachers for the work that teachers do every single day.

-- Don Macneale, St. Petersburg

Dresden is dedicated to equality

Re: Race, fear collide in campaign, by Vanessa Gezari, Oct. 4.

For those who are not familiar with the city of Dresden, we would like to take this opportunity to invite you to come and visit our progressive city. The city of Dresden is "A Great Place to Live." We make every effort to promote equality for every citizen of Dresden.

I understand that each individual has the right to express his or her own viewpoints. However, I would like to make it perfectly clear that the beliefs of congressional candidate James Hart and Alderman Terry Odle are not the views adopted by the city of Dresden. The remarks stated by Alderman Odle reflect his opinions only, and not those of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the Dresden Industrial Board or any other advisory board of the city of Dresden.

The city of Dresden has dedicated individuals who work diligently to promote Dresden and to recruit business from within the United States, as well as internationally, in order to improve the economic viability of Dresden.

The city of Dresden is devoted to providing the same services, benefits and opportunities for every citizen of Dresden regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin. When you visit Dresden, I feel you will find harmony and goodwill throughout our entire city.

-- Danny Forrester, mayor, Dresden, Tenn. [Last modified October 23, 2004, 01:13:23]


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