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Uhuru "tribunal' brings police issues forward

(ran ET edition of Tampa & State)

Saying African-Americans are treated unfairly by the police and the courts, the National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement held a hearing Sunday on alleged police harassment and misconduct throughout the Tampa Bay area.

Nine people testified about their experiences with police, and about 50 people attended the "tribunal," which lasted nearly four hours at the Uhuru headquarters, 1245 18th Ave. S.

"We have issues as a people which never go before judges, which never get tried, because law is the opinion of the ruling class," said Uhuru founder Omali Yeshitela. "It is fundamentally important for us to bring these issues forward for public view."

A panel of three judges ruled that St. Petersburg city government and the other municipalities that were mentioned at the tribunal were guilty of genocide and human rights violations according to international law.

The people who testified said that when they tried to complain about harassment and misconduct, they were not treated seriously.

St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Doniel did not comment on the ruling but said complaints made against officers are always investigated.

"It's a very extensive investigation, and the findings are always made public," Doniel said. "We properly respond to continuous calls for service from throughout the community, even from the Uhuru community as well, and we will continue to do so."

Yeshitela said police officials were not invited to the hearing to answer the charges because the officers would intimidate the people testifying.

"We do not assume that the police department has to be here for there to be justice," Yeshitela said. "It would be irrational on our part to have the very force that is being accused to be here as an intimidating factor. We cannot rely on the court system in this country to bring justice so we have to create our own court system."

Doniel said, "Law enforcement is not in the business of intimidating individuals."

Tyrone Howard, 23, testified that he was riding his bike in May when he was chased by police officers who thought Howard was a robbery suspect. Although Howard was not involved in the robbery, he was back-handed by a police sergeant before he was released, Howard said.

When he tried to complain to the police's department's Internal Affairs unit, he was not treated seriously, he said. "All it boils down to is they had the sergeant who hit me call me back," said Howard, of St. Petersburg. "They tore me apart, and I was just minding my own business."

The group plans to hold more tribunals on police injustice , said Chimurenga Waller, statewide Uhuru president. The information, Waller said, will be taken to the United Nations to prove the violations African-Americans endure.

"There are not enough police, there are not enough jails to keep an oppressed people . . . oppressed forever," Yeshitela said.

_ Staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.