In the wake of last week's police shooting, a public radio station brought together several African-American leaders in St. Petersburg to discuss the sometimes strained relationship between segments of the city's black community and law enforcement.
"We definitely need to bridge the gap between police and the community," said Lisa Wheeler-Brown, who works with a program that tries to combat the "no snitching" culture.
Others participating in the discussion, to be broadcast tonight on WUSF-FM 89.7, were the Rev. Manuel Sykes, new St. Petersburg NAACP branch president; state Rep. Darryl Rouson; and City Council member Wengay Newton.
During the program hosted by WUSF's Carson Cooper, panelists acknowledged the historic mistrust of police by the black community, but emphasized strong support for law enforcement. They blamed animosity connected to last week's tragedy on a minority of residents, who, they said, were mostly young, immature and uninformed.
"When you look at the wider community, they understand that it's an issue of right and wrong," said Sykes, who was at the scene of the standoff with fugitive Hydra Lacy that led to the deaths of Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Sgt. Thomas Baitinger.
Newton, in whose district the shooting occurred, called for a moment of silence in honor of the officers. Rouson praised Mayor Bill Foster and police Chief Chuck Harmon for their actions, but admitted that he bristled at some of Harmon's words during the officers' funeral.
Wheeler-Brown, who organized a carwash for the slain officers' families, said her effort drew some negative feedback. "I'm not surprised," she said. "We're in South St. Petersburg."
The community — parents, teachers and preachers — needs to teach respect for law enforcement, Rouson said.