Saturday, September 22, 2018
Public safety

NAACP continues to question police presence at Martin Luther King Jr. Day after-party

ST. PETERSBURG — More than two dozen community members packed into a room at the Enoch Davis Center agreed: The feeling at the Martin Luther King Jr. parade after-party in Midtown was more "police state" than celebration.

It had been just more than two weeks since the parade, since the blur of police lights and confusion as streets that had historically remained open for post-parade neighborhood parties were closed to traffic.

But time had only tempered frustrations so much.

Local NAACP chapter president Maria L. Scruggs led the three-hour emotional discussion Saturday that spanned perceived missteps of the police department, broader issues of institutional racism in the city and what could be done to ensure MLK Day 2019 would be a celebration representative of the man for which it’s named.

Jan. 15, 2018, Scruggs said, was not that. Instead, she said, her community was left feeling disenfranchised, belittled and baffled.

Next, she said, she would be working on a summary of the meeting for the NAACP’s legal defense fund, which will determine if any civil rights were violated and a lawsuit is warranted.

Ultimately, much of the room agreed, some kind of community group should take ownership of the celebration and its block parties, which have no single sponsor or representative.

St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway and City Council members Amy Foster and Steve Kornell sat among the frustrated residents.

Emotions grew as multiple residents questioned why, after three years without major incidents, police closed streets and had so many visible patrols.

"It came without warning," said Trinia Cox, another NAACP leader. "It also came without justification. The changes were in response to what? .?.?. It created a feeling for me that I did not want to feel in 2018."

Holloway, who is black, took the microphone and echoed sentiments he has maintained since the controversy erupted.

"I take responsibility," he told the group. "My staff made the plan and I looked at the plan."

He said that the staffing for the "parade, the after-party and the after-after-party" had been the same for 20 years — something with which much of the room disagreed.

He said the traffic changes were in response to some residents who didn’t like the all-night party going on in their streets when they have to work the next day.

While officers have usually been out until 1 a.m. during the block parties, this year Holloway said the area was cleared by 9:30 p.m.

He regretted that the traffic changes were not announced to the community. He also responded to claims that officers asked for IDs before allowing people on closed streets to get home, saying that shouldn’t have happened.

"I’m looking for some people to correct what we did do wrong," Holloway told the crowd. "We have been doing the same thing for 20 years. Guess what? We’ve been doing it wrong."

Before the meeting, Holloway told the Tampa Bay Times he thought community members were doing the right thing by holding the debriefing. He hoped that a group willing to take ownership of the event — the way it’s done for other big events such as St. Pete Pride — would come from it. Local leaders have expressed interest in forming a task force to explore organizing the after-party.

Scruggs wanted to know what the city and Police Department’s plans are for handling major events, and if what they did on MLK Day is consistent with that.

"If there was a variation, why?" she asked. "What was the justification for it?"

She was disappointed that no representatives from Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office participated in the discussion.

Kriseman did attend an explosive City Council meeting Jan. 18, when residents said they felt like officers were at the after-party to provoke — not to protect and serve.

Holloway said he would be having his own meeting with his staff on Monday to relay what he learned Saturday and continue his conversations with the NAACP.

After the meeting, Scruggs said she thought the conversation was productive.

"Today allowed people whose voices wanted to be heard to have been heard," she said.

Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.

Comments
Decomposed body found in woods in Wesley Chapel

Decomposed body found in woods in Wesley Chapel

WESLEY CHAPEL — Someone walking in the woods near Beardsley Drive and Broughton Place found a decomposed body about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Pasco County sheriff’s officials said.Sheriff’s investigators said they have not determined if foul play was invo...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Tarpon Springs woman hit and killed as she pushes stroller along U.S. 19, police say

Tarpon Springs woman hit and killed as she pushes stroller along U.S. 19, police say

TARPON SPRINGS — A 27-year-old Tarpon Springs woman died Saturday after she was struck by a car as she walked along U.S. 19 pushing a stroller with a 2-year-old in it while two 6-year-olds walked beside her, police said.Tymira Latrel Leverson and the...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas Park man killed in rollover crash near Feather Sound

Pinellas Park man killed in rollover crash near Feather Sound

ST. PETERSBURG — A 47-year-old Pinellas Park man died Friday night after his pickup truck veered into oncoming traffic, rolled over and ejected him, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Troopers said the crash took place at 7:15 p.m. at Feather So...
Updated: 5 hours ago
FHP: He stopped to help — then another driver killed him and stole his car

FHP: He stopped to help — then another driver killed him and stole his car

ST. PETERSBURG — An act of kindness ended tragically when the body of a missing motorist was found Friday more than 15 hours after he pulled over on the side of Interstate 275 to assist another driver.Dhimitri Andoni, 22, of Clearwater was driving no...
Published: 09/21/18
Fatal Friday night crash closes lanes on Ulmerton Road

Fatal Friday night crash closes lanes on Ulmerton Road

ST. PETERSBURG — A fatal traffic crash occurred at about 7:15 p.m. Friday at the intersection of Ulmerton Road and Carillon Parkway, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash closed all westbound lanes of Ulmerton Road.No additional informati...
Published: 09/21/18
Deputies seek two men wanted in sexual battery at Tampa motel

Deputies seek two men wanted in sexual battery at Tampa motel

TAMPA — Deputies are asking for the public’s help to identify two men they believe committed a sexual battery on Sept. 15 near an east Tampa hotel.The attack took place inside a vehicle at the Quality Inn & Suites at 10007 Princess Palm Ave., accordi...
Published: 09/21/18
Sheriff: Pinellas deputy fired for alerting inmate about cell search

Sheriff: Pinellas deputy fired for alerting inmate about cell search

A Pinellas County detention deputy was terminated on Friday for revealing confidential information about a scheduled search of jail cells for weapons and other contraband, said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.Detention deputy Michelle Parsons, 48, adm...
Published: 09/21/18
'Divorce Court' woman accused of sex with boy, 15; he says he may have fathered her newborn

'Divorce Court' woman accused of sex with boy, 15; he says he may have fathered her newborn

HUDSON — A 26-year-old woman has been charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious battery after a 15-year-old boy told deputies he could be father of her newborn child, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said. The boy, who has not been nam...
Published: 09/21/18
Deputies: Spring Hill man set fire to ex-girlfriend’s home in July

Deputies: Spring Hill man set fire to ex-girlfriend’s home in July

SPRING HILL — A 27-year-old man was arrested Thursday in connection with a July building fire, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Christopher Lamar Jamison of Spring Hill faces 10 counts of attempted murder and charges of arson and agg...
Published: 09/21/18
Bob’s Carpet and Flooring heir paid hundreds of thousands dollars for drugs, federal court records show

Bob’s Carpet and Flooring heir paid hundreds of thousands dollars for drugs, federal court records show

Robert Butler III, an heir to a well-known local flooring chain that bears his father’s name, participated in a money laundering scheme and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for cocaine and marijuana in recent years, according to federal court re...
Published: 09/21/18