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Five years after unrest, activists assess community changes

Five years ago Tuesday night, angry crowds and riot police fought violently at the Uhuru House on 18th Avenue S. Police shot tear gas grenades into the building, leading to a second night of racial unrest after police fatally shot black motorist TyRon Lewis.

On Tuesday, a few dozen people gathered quietly at the Uhuru House, enjoyed a buffet and listened to a panel of speakers talk about what has changed since that night.

And they heard two attorneys from a Tampa firm give an update on a lawsuit seeking damages from the tear gas attack.

The pending suit claims the police violated the Uhurus' rights to peaceable assembly, equal protection and freedom from undue searches and seizures.

Meanwhile, Omali Yeshitela and his brother, Chimurenga Waller, said the city has yet to bring real economic development to the neighborhoods around the Uhuru House.

"In this city, briefly, we've made incredible progress," said Yeshitela, chairman of the African People's Socialist Party and a former mayoral candidate. "What has happened has not been because of the city, but despite the city."

Bobby Doctor, southeastern regional director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, helped lead an analysis of problems in St. Petersburg after two nights of unrest on Oct. 24 and Nov. 13. He said then that the city had problems but at least was working to address them.

On Tuesday, Doctor told the gathering that much work remains.

"The federal government is not providing the kind of leadership needed to help us deal with the question of race and poverty," he said.

He said society tries to marginalize poor and minority residents. He called on the audience to become leaders for change.

"You are among the few people in this community who understand and recognize that, and you have an obligation to change that," he said.