ST. PETERSBURG — Every year, the local NAACP honors the accomplishments and heroics of local police officers during its annual Freedom Fund banquet.
On Saturday, it did so posthumously for the three St. Petersburg police officers killed this year in the line of duty: canine Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz, Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger and Officer David S. Crawford.
"There is too little regard, it seems, for the sanctity of life," said the event's keynote speaker, Robert N. Davis, a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. "We lost three police officers recently. That is intolerable. And one involved a 16-year-old boy, taking the life of another and losing his own in the process."
Yaslowitz and Baitinger were killed Jan. 24 by armed fugitive Hydra Lacy Jr., who was hiding in an attic. Then, 28 days later, Crawford was shot and killed while questioning a suspect in a prowling, Nicholas Lindsey, 16. Lindsey is charged as an adult with first-degree murder.
The officers' deaths marked the first time in 30 years that St. Petersburg has lost its sworn protectors in the line of duty. Their deaths fueled racial tensions because the officers were white, and the men they confronted were black.
The NAACP banquet was in sharp contrast to the weeks after the shootings, when St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster sparred with his top black administrator, Goliath Davis. Davis was the subject of criticism after he attended Lacy's funeral, but not Yaslowitz's and Baitinger's. Foster eventually relieved Davis of his post, saying he "lost confidence" in him.
"This year's event celebrates the coming together of the community on every level," said St. Petersburg NAACP president Manuel Sykes.
Among the attendees were Foster, police Chief Chuck Harmon, Deputy Chief Luke Williams, state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, NAACP officials and local and civic church leaders.
The banquet, now in its 78th year, concluded with the tribute song Let's Get Together, written in honor of the slain officers and performed by teenagers from the Boys & Girls Club of St. Petersburg. R&B singer and Grammy nominee Jeffrey Osborne also performed.
The honorary chairman of the banquet was Bill Edwards, chairman and chief executive officer of Big 3 Entertainment, which recently was awarded the contract for managing the city-owned Mahaffey Theater.
Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com.