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Neighbors take stock as officers fill streets

A woman watches from a picture window at a home along 37th Street S between 29th and 30th avenues Monday as gunfire was heard popping from the nearby house at 3734 28th Ave. S.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

A woman watches from a picture window at a home along 37th Street S between 29th and 30th avenues Monday as gunfire was heard popping from the nearby house at 3734 28th Ave. S.

ST. PETERSBURG — Some neighbors woke up to the sound of gunfire, others to the crescendo of sirens that followed.

"More units, more units," said Reggie Jackson, 23, who lives on 36th Street S. "Every 10 or 15 minutes."

Officers descended by the dozens on the neighborhood from where the words "officer down" had gone over the police radios.

The crisis affected bus service to and from schools. Nearby, Thurgood Marshall Middle School was placed on lockout and lost power for about an hour. Dim backup lights went on in classrooms and the hallways.

Principal Dallas Jackson called parents twice, first to alert them to the situation and assure them students were safe, then later to say that bus transportation and car-line dismissal would be the same as usual. Students who walk home had to be picked up at school. A third call came later in the day from a teacher to remind parents that a concert for the evening was still scheduled as planned.

Dozens of families in the neighborhood were evacuated from their homes and spent hours watching as police moved in with armored vehicles.

It all played out in front of residents whose reaction sums up this neighborhood's mixed relationship with the police.

While some mourned the officers' deaths, others complained that the police response was too aggressive and disruptive.

As car stereos pumped music and cars lined the block, residents stood on one side or another of a sensitive issue: the mistrust some say underlies relations between primarily black neighborhoods and the police.

Some black residents gathered at the scene invoked TyRon Lewis, whose shooting by a police officer sparked days of racial unrest in 1996. Others contrasted the stampede of officers that arrived Monday to the way they say the police department responds when residents are victimized.

"When it's one of their own, they're all over it," said Nicole Tarver, 38, who is black. "When it's a citizen, they don't come out here like this."

Others rejected any racial component.

Krystal Jackson, who is black, lamented the angry edge she believes some of her neighbors harbor against the police.

"A lot of people try to make it a color issue, but it's not," said Jackson, 20. Instead, she said, authorities simply were searching for a man who opened fire on them.

Conversation flew both ways, sometimes in strong terms.

"Some ignorant comments I've been hearing," said Ebony Jackson, 20, who is black. "People don't care about the people who got shot. They have families, kids they are leaving behind."

The tumult came as a surprise for those who consider the area a quiet residential neighborhood, exemplified by this yard sign behind crime scene tape: "Ask me about Girl Scout cookies."

Times staff writers Waveney Ann Moore and Katherine Snow Smith and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2248.

Neighbors take stock as officers fill streets 01/24/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 7:15am]
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