St. Petersburg protesters issue demands for reform

Cutting police department funding, banning less lethal weapons, decriminalizing victimless crimes and creating new systems to address police misconduct are among demands.
Protesters in St. Petersburg distributed fliers Friday that include a list of demands for police reforms.
Protesters in St. Petersburg distributed fliers Friday that include a list of demands for police reforms. [ MAR\GO SNIPE ]
Published July 4, 2020|Updated July 6, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — On the eve of Independence Day, protesters released 11 formal demands for the city of St. Petersburg.

During the usual 7 p.m. march Friday, Chelsea Noe, a 27-year-old protester, zigzagged across city streets taping fliers with the list on telephone poles and electrical boxes as fireworks rang above.

Two separate fliers were distributed. One read IMMEDIATELY DROP THE CHARGES AGAINST PROTESTERS. The other listed another 10 demands. They include cutting the St. Petersburg Police Department budget by 30 percent, banning less lethal weapons used by law enforcement such as tear gas and rubber bullets. They also seek bans on the use of facial recognition software, no knock warrants and choke holds.

The group wants the city to separate healthcare from policing by having separate institutions for clinical dispatches including mental health crises, domestic and non-sexual violence or abuse cases, and drug overdose cases.

Also on the list are calls to decriminalizing victimless crimes, such as drug possession and traffic citations, and to take police out of schools.

Protesters are calling for an end to paid administrative leave for officers involved in ongoing investigations and for an investment in a third-party investigative team to look into instances of officer misconduct as well as removal of permit requirements to exercise first amendment rights.

“It’s a step towards what we’re fighting for,” said Marquell Swain, who’s been active in the group informally known as the St. Pete Peace Protest movement. They have been organizing across the city for more than 30 days.

“It’s not up to the city anymore,” said Swain, 35. “We’re not waiting.” If the demands are not met, the group is preparing to vote those in city government positions out of power come election day, Swain said.

A spokesman for Mayor Rick Kriseman said his office has not seen the protesters’ list of demands.

“We haven’t received or reviewed any requests,” said communications director Ben Kirby in an email Saturday. However, the office points to its current policies, such as the Second Chance program for misdemeanors, as indications of “community-oriented policing” that already stand.

“Tips from the community to the police have gone from 347 in 2013 to nearly 3,000 annually,” Kirby wrote, “which speaks to the trust that has been built between our residents and (our) officers.

Council member Darden Rice said white supremacists have no place to hide at City Hall of the police department.

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“If people think the system is rigged,” she said in a statement, “then we will explain why that is not the case or we will root it out and fix it.”

A spokesman for the police department said the office was closed for the holiday and the department would review the list when it has the opportunity to do so.

About a week prior to the release, the group held discussions regarding what to include on the list. They split into four groups to brainstorm then reconvened, finding commonalities among different groups’ ideas to compile the final list.

Related: St. Pete protesters talk the talk, not just walk the walk

Although not included in the flier, during a break along Friday’s march, organizer Terron Gland called for reparations for the Black community — for those affected by gentrification during the development of Tropicana Field and by police brutality “in a form to be determined.”

Although the protesters recently split into two groups — one marching from City Hall twice a day and the other protesting in front of the police station — familiar faces from both groups were present as the demands were distributed.

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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.

WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.

WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.

WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.

CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.

HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.