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Uhurus plan weekly BayWalk protests after arrests

Published Oct. 10, 2003|Updated Sept. 1, 2005

The Devil Rays unveiled their new uniforms at BayWalk.

Mercedes-Benz plans to showcase a new model in the courtyard.

Now the Uhurus, an activist group upset over the recent arrest of three black men at BayWalk, are planning weekly protests at the $40-million entertainment complex.

Holding "BayWalk Is For Whites Only" signs, a dozen Uhuru members picketed the venue Thursday and accused police and BayWalk security of racial profiling. The Uhuru group is part of the African People's Socialist Party, an international movement advocating social and economic justice for Africans and their descendants.

Uhuru members distributed fliers featuring photos of Mayor Rick Baker, police Chief Chuck Harmon and others. Next to Baker's face was the caption, "Round 'em up, boys!" The group also accused the St. Petersburg Times of favoring police in its reporting.

"The police are harassing Africans, telling them they can't wear their hats sideways," Uhuru member Cassandra Floyd said, reading a prepared statement.

The Uhurus will protest at 9 tonight outside BayWalk. Additional officers will not be assigned to the complex.

"We're looking at de-escalating any issues that might occur," Major Tim Story said.

Thursday's protest was prompted by the Oct. 3 arrest of three black men, including Keith Stewart, an Uhuru member. Stewart, 33, is charged with inciting a riot outside Wet Willies, a BayWalk bar.

At 11:55 p.m., the bar was packed with 200 people when police encountered Terry Roquemore, 28. Officers say he was intoxicated and shouted curses in their faces. Officers say they took him to the ground after he pulled while being escorted to an exit.

At that point, police said, Stewart got involved.

Stewart encouraged a group of 100 men standing in the walkway between Wet Willies and Dan Marino's restaurant to attack officers, police said. He told the crowd to "burn the city down," police said.

A man in the group, Sean Pinckney, 32, joined Stewart and yelled curses at police as people closed in on officers, police said. Pinckney was charged with disorderly conduct.

Stewart attended Thursday's demonstration and disputed the police account.

"A lot of people are having problems with this BayWalk," he said.

Thursday's demonstration got heated at times. Passerby Katrina Grenon, 34, who works across the street from BayWalk, questioned the Uhurus motives and faced off with members, telling them white people also get arrested at BayWalk.

Craig Sher, president and CEO of the Sembler Co., developer of BayWalk, said police and security will not tolerate unruly behavior from anyone.

"We're color-blind," Sher said. "Look, I've got teenagers, and it makes no difference to me _ black, white, red. We want people of all sorts to be there."