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Search for healing and answers after police shootings gives rise to bay area gatherings

As about 100 strangers gathered Saturday night on the grass above Spa Beach, the Bay Area Dream Defenders held healing crystals, prepared a drum circle and burned sticks of sage.

In contrast to large, tense marches protesting police shootings around the nation, the Dream Defenders focused on healing.

Protests are important, said organizer Char Singleton, 28. But they could wait.

"I don't think any of us have the energy for that right now," she said. "I'm hurting."

An older man spoke first. He told the others that he teared up after watching the video of Philandro Castile's death in Minnesota.

A mother, holding a yellow sign that said "I can't breathe," sobbed as she told the group about her fear of letting her young son walk out the door.

An elderly woman reminded the multiracial crowd that where they stood — Spa Beach Park in downtown St. Petersburg — had been segregated until 1959. Just decades ago, she said, black people could not go into that water.

Across Tampa Bay, an energized protest took place in Centro Ybor. Leaders of the group said they were trying to remain positive amid tragedy. By 7 p.m. the group grew from six people to about 40.

They held signs. They chanted "Their lives matter" and "Black lives matter."

Cars that drove by stopped or honked in support, and passers-by joined in the group's chants as the late-evening sun beat down on Seventh Avenue.

"We're stressing peace," said Kendra Saunders, 26, of Tampa. "We are mad, but we need to come together in a positive way."

Earlier Saturday, a group of about 35 protesters called "Together We Unite" walked through the streets escorted by Tampa police. They started outside Tampa police headquarters around noon.

Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said about 100 more people were waiting for the marchers at Waterworks Park.

There were no incidents, Hegarty said. He said patrols in Ybor City were aware of the planned protests and that there would be a small police presence. Officers normally monitor Ybor on Saturday nights, he said.

Fredricka Willis, 24, of Tampa came to the protest with her 7-year-old daughter, Kiara Rodrigues. She said her daughter heard about the shootings and wanted to support her community — she also told her mom she was scared to be black.

Willis said she wanted to show her daughter there's a community that loves and supports her.

"This has to stop," Willis said. "Regardless of if you're black, white, Hispanic, who you love, female, male, whatever. We need to stand together because at the end of the day, we're all gonna have to die. We all bleed the same blood."

Just before 7 p.m., the group walked down the street toward the Orpheum, where a multiracial crowd of more than 100 people filled the club, calling for self-love, mentoring and economic support for black communities.

Organizer Robert Ferdinand lamented the many threats facing black people in the United States.

"Being a black man in this country, I think one of the first lessons I ever learned was fear," he said.

More than a dozen people spoke during the meeting, which was mostly calm but became lively when participants shouted the names of black victims of police shootings.

Outside, people lined up to pose for portraits with duct tape covering their mouth.

"I am very much in pain right now," said photographer Christy Marie of Tampa.

"I don't know a solution other than to create art."

Search for healing and answers after police shootings gives rise to bay area gatherings 07/09/16 [Last modified: Sunday, July 10, 2016 1:28am]
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