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Officer's slaying becomes teaching moment at Boca Ciega, Gibbs

A student listens to activist Wali Shabazz speak to a group of about 15 black males at Boca Ciega High School on Wednesday.

DIRK SHADD | Times

A student listens to activist Wali Shabazz speak to a group of about 15 black males at Boca Ciega High School on Wednesday.

ST. PETERSBURG — For the past week, students have steadily streamed into Sander Myles' office at Boca Ciega High School.

They all want to talk about one thing: the slaying of a St. Petersburg officer, and the 16-year-old Pinellas student charged with the crime.

"They have a lot of questions, and I guess they just want to voice their opinion," said Myles, the school's family and community liaison.

Ten days ago, Officer David Crawford was shot and killed while answering a call about a prowler. Authorities have charged Nick Lindsey, a Gibbs High School student, with first-degree murder.

Kids haven't stopped buzzing about it, Myles and other school officials say. Reactions and thoughts range from confusion about what happened to questions about the historically strained relationship between law enforcement and young black men.

Myles said most of the students are shocked that Lindsey, who is their age, could have committed such a violent crime. Others wondered how mom or dad could turn their child in to authorities — as Lindsey's parents did after the shooting. (Myles told students she'd do the same).

But a few students, officials say, seemed to want to dismiss Lindsey's actions because the teen is black and the officer white.

At Gibbs, three students showed up wearing T-shirts supporting Lindsey. One had "Free Nick" handwritten on it, said principal Kevin Gordon. The other shirts had photos of Lindsey in the orange jail jumper on the front and the words on the back — one with "Savage Life" and the other with "Bad A--."

Students also told Myles that a Facebook page had sprouted up about the incident and principal Gordon said his school was monitoring one. A search of Facebook on Wednesday brought up a page filled with debate and comments, including some with racial overtones. It was unclear if there was one page or several.

Gordon, speaking to members of the Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students on Wednesday, said the community needs to deal with the negative feelings some youths — many of them black males — have against law enforcement.

"The mind-set of some of our kids, but not all, is that this is payback for all the times they've shot a black youth and gotten away with it," Gordon said. "My thought process is that somehow we as a community, we have got to deal with this on a large-scale level, where there's some healing that can go on for our youth so they don't act out like that. … You guys need to know it's real. It's not pretend. It's absolutely happening."

The issue won't go away, school leaders said.

"It needs to be dealt with," Myles said. "It needs to be addressed."

On Wednesday, she sat in the back of a class at Boca Ciega watching Wali Shabazz talk to a group of young black males about interacting with officers.

Shabazz put both arms out and posed as if he was gripping a steering wheel.

"This is what you do," he said, "If you are stopped by the police."

Pull over. Keep both hands on the steering wheel. No, sir. Yes, sir. No ma'am. Yes, ma'am.

"It may be a bad experience, but get over it and move on to the next level. It's not about how you feel. It's about how you think," said Shabazz, a Tampa activist. "It's going to save your life man. … You have to be very careful, especially under the circumstances right now."

Shabazz leads a program in Pinellas high schools — as well as one in Tampa — aimed at increasing achievement among black male students by addressing cultural issues.

"A lot of our problems today with the police has nothing to do with race; it has everything to do with behavior," he told the young men, who are freshmen, sophomores and juniors at Boca Ciega. "Most of them ain't out to get you. … The purpose of law enforcement is to protect the society. They put their life on the line every day of the week."

Myles said Shabazz's simple message is much needed right now.

"I think he was on point," she said. "I hope that they all take it in and remember it."

Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

Officer's slaying becomes teaching moment at Boca Ciega, Gibbs 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 11:07pm]
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