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Guest column | Sami Leigh Scott

We must all rise up to help Midtown

Residents of Midtown in south St. Petersburg are suffering from low socioeconomic status, minimal education and lack of job opportunities. They have become targets of thugs allowed to conduct criminal enterprises there. Neighborhood children must share sidewalks and playgrounds with drug dealers, gangbangers, sex offenders, prostitutes and drug addicts.

It is uncivilized for us to witness the suffering of these residents and not respond. What are the mayor of St. Petersburg, the Pinellas County sheriff, judges, prosecutors, City Council members, county commissioners, School Board members, state legislators and the governor of Florida, who comes from St. Petersburg, doing about this tragedy in Midtown?

It is time for detailed accountability from the police chief, senior city administrators, code enforcement agents, parole officers, social workers and mental health specialists. Our tax dollars should be used to ensure that safe neighborhoods and parks are returned to our children. We cannot accept excuses. With a barrage of news reports detailing crimes in and criminals from that area, we cannot accept statistics claiming a "drop in crime."

Where is the accounting for millions of dollars in grants and public and private donations to nonprofit organizations, supposedly used to address the social ills of this community?

While I am not a resident of Midtown, I have been active on many issues that involve that neighborhood. I would like to see a comprehensive plan by law enforcement to sweep criminals off the streets and into courts and prisons where they belong. Code enforcement officers should identify uninhabitable drug houses for demolition.

The Florida Department of Education has identified 41 Pinellas County schools that have "Correct II" status, which is one step short of state intervention. Even more alarming, the Schott Foundation found that Pinellas County failed to graduate 79 percent of its African-American male students in 2008 — the worst rate of any large school district in the nation. With no education and few job opportunities, some of these teens become terrorists on our streets. The school district must be held responsible for pushing students through its dropout factories and into prison cells.

What is the school superintendent's specific strategy to close the achievement gap and provide quality education to our children? Has she assembled teams of experts with proven records of turning failing schools around? Are we getting our money's worth from the School Board and highly paid administrators?

Residents of Midtown, you don't escape some responsibility. The moment you abandoned the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," you joined an underclass society. Have you discussed with your children that education is their first priority and crime is not their heritage? If not, they are at an immediate disadvantage. The crime wave in Midtown has generated a tsunami that threatens your safety and can deprive you and your children of a happy life.

You have witnessed crimes upon your brothers and sisters and become victims by association, yet you refuse to cooperate with authorities to make your streets safer. Another of your precious daughters was killed on your streets recently, and as an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times stated, the silence from the community was deafening.

As we all rise to give a helping hand to residents in south St. Petersburg, let us not fall prey to those so-called "leaders" who benefit financially and politically from their own community's suffering. As stakeholders, we must take full responsibility for our actions and demand accountability from all.

Who among us can afford to be silent? Let us all make some noise.

Sami Leigh Scott lives in South Pasadena. She is the former president of the Pinellas School Advisory Council Association.

We must all rise up to help Midtown 10/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 4:42pm]
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