ST. PETERSBURG — In the two weeks since a police officer shot and killed Javon Dawson outside a rowdy graduation party, there have been headlines, protest speeches and police reports.
But Pastor Louis Murphy wanted to hear from a segment of the community that has remained behind the scenes — Javon's peers.
Murphy, pastor of Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, held a forum where young people could voice their concerns about everything from safety to their relationship with the police.
The discussion, held in a separate room from their parents, wasn't angry. It was more like a talk among friends that ventured from maintaining reputations to avoiding fights.
Opinions on Dawson's shooting ran the gamut.
On June 7, Officer Terrence Nemeth shot Dawson after the teen pointed a gun at him outside a party, according to authorities. Dawson's family and community members have refuted the Police Department's claims.
"I see little young, 5 or 6 year olds, coming around with BB guns and you look at these young kids like, 'They fittin' to end up being like their older brother or daddy,' " said Roman Elkahly, a 17-year-old Gibbs High School student who is enrolled in Gulfport's junior police academy program.
But Chiriga Murphy, 24, a forum moderator, asked whether police could have done something other than shoot Dawson.
"Point blank, when a gun is pointed at you, even if you are not a police officer, you going to be scared," Elkahly said. "You going to think someone is going to shoot you."
But suppose he didn't have a gun, countered 17-year-old Andrew Boose, who said he was a friend of Dawson's and attended the party that night.
"I feel like he ain't that kind of person, he just messed around with the wrong kind of people," said Boose, who attended Life Skills Center of Pinellas. "I don't think he would pull a gun and do nothing like that."
So why not speak up, asked Marion Harrington, another moderator.
"That's my homeboy," Boose said. "But other people who know Javon are scared to speak up with what they know."
So, Murphy asked the crowd of about 70 young people, would speaking up be considered snitching?
"No," said Tyler Birdie Martin, 19, a Boca Ciega graduate.
"Snitching is telling on your homeboy to get out of something that you did," said Martin, who is studying to become a medical assistant at Everest University. "But if you telling on someone that you know is wrong, that's just 'looking out.' "