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Activists demand St. Petersburg cut police budget and make officers wear cameras

The St. Pete Peace Protest movement, which has been marching for three months, issues its latest demands for Mayor Rick Kriseman.

ST. PETERSBURG — Protestors and community activists on Friday released their latest demands for Mayor Rick Kriseman, calling on him to cut the St. Petersburg Police Department’s budget, equip officers with body-cameras that continuously record and give residents control of Community Redevelopment Area funds.

The demands were announced in a post on the “St. Pete Peace Protest” Facebook page, which has been used to share announcements and live streams of daily protests.

City officials announced in July that this fall some nonviolent calls to police will be handled by social services workers rather than uniformed officers. They’ll handle calls such as those involving intoxication, overdoses, people who are experiencing a mental health crisis or are suicidal.

Related: Police in St. Petersburg to step back from nonviolent emergency calls

Protestors praised that decision but said more must be done.

“From its outset, our movement has called for defunding, demilitarizing, and scrutinizing St. Petersburg’s police department,” the post read. “Mayor Kriseman’s changes, though important in their own right, do not accomplish these aims.”

Activists want the city to reduce its police budget, which they put at $115 million in 2020, and reallocate funds toward affordable housing, healthcare, public transportation, early education and minority community outreach.

They also want all on-duty officers to be issued body cameras that continuously record, and will record every interaction with the public. Officers who fail to turn their cameras on should be suspended, activists say, and possibly fired.

On July 9, 2020, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced his intention to “reimagine” policing in St. Petersburg. We look forward...

Posted by St. Pete Peace Protest on Friday, August 21, 2020

Other demands included the implementation of a Black and youth-focused workforce development program, the creation of satellite health facilities for houseless people and for prosecutors to expunge the records of all protestors arrested while demonstration in the city over the past three months.

Mayoral spokesman Benjamin Kirby said Friday that neither Kriseman nor St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway had “received any correspondence” regarding the demands.

In February, Holloway announced the police force will adopt body cameras after five years of studying the technology. Kirby said the cameras currently being tested are activated through “sudden movements” to a “weapon being removed from the holster.”

Jabaar Edmond, 40, a local activist and protestor, helped put together the latest list of demands. He says each one is equally important to the movement.

Jabaar Edmond marches with protesters in St. Petersburg on June 5. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

“The protests and marches were the first steps toward mobilization,” he said. “Now’s the more tedious and hard work — to actually have solutions to the problems we were screaming about — and offer them to officials and the powers that be.”

Edmond said activists want St. Petersburg to allocate $20 million to create equitable and affordable housing in the city. If not, he says, he could see a housing crisis once funds from the federal CARES Act runs out and the statewide moratorium on evictions is ended.

“The number one issue in the eyes of community members is affordable housing,” Edmond said. “The mayor always says that the budget reflects our morals and our values. So, with housing being the number one issue in the eyes of community members, it’s time for our budget to reflect that.”

The city should also fund an early childhood education program for children starting at 3-months-old, activists say. And they want “citizen control” of the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, which allocates taxes collected in the district.

The city can afford these new programs, Edmonds said. Activists say the police department’s budget is too big and that the city could start by no longer purchasing armored vehicles.

“Some of that equipment represents fascism, it gives off the police state like energy,” Edmond said. “It’s a truly concerning step, not just us as protestors but as American citizens. Demilitarization of the police is going to be a key in having that equity, human rights conversation.”

• • •

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.

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