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Activists gather to remember infamous St. Petersburg tent slashings

William “Pops” Shumate, a homeless veteran, speaks Thursday in front of St. Petersburg City Hall, marking the third anniversary of the police slashing of homeless people’s tents.

LARA CERRI | Times

William “Pops” Shumate, a homeless veteran, speaks Thursday in front of St. Petersburg City Hall, marking the third anniversary of the police slashing of homeless people’s tents.

ST. PETERSBURG — A half-dozen homeless people and Christian ministers gathered at City Hall on Thursday to demand more public shelter and mark the third anniversary of the city's slashing of illegal street tents.

City officials haven't followed through on promises to create housing for the homeless in South Pinellas County, the Rev. Bruce Wright said.

"Things have not changed much since then," said Wright, an organizer for the Poor Peoples' Economic Human Rights Campaign, referring to the Police Department's raid on a outdoor homeless camp in January 2007.

The incident made national headlines under then Mayor Rick Baker.

William Shumate said he was inside his tent when city officials ripped in without warning.

"To see the blade go through that tent wasn't a nice thing to see," said Shumate, one of six homeless people suing the city in a federal class-action lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of a series of ordinances that target homeless people.

Shumate suggested city officials convert an empty public building into a shelter.

Wright also spoke out against city ordinances that criminalize public urination and dictate where people can sleep.

"The homeless continue to be dehumanized," he said.

Meanwhile, an effort to make homeless people a "protected class" in Florida law is finding widespread support in Tallahassee.

A bill to toughen penalties for crimes against homeless people by designating them "hate crimes" won initial approval in a House and a Senate committee this week.

Times staff writer John Frank contributed to this report. Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

Activists gather to remember infamous St. Petersburg tent slashings 01/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 8:50pm]
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