ST. PETERSBURG — Hours after police dispersed protesters from outside police headquarters for the third night in a row, city and faith leaders came together on the steps of City Hall in a show of unity and solidarity with them.
It was the latest attempt to find resolution with demonstrators, who have taken to the police station and city streets each day and night since Saturday in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and in protest of police brutality and racism.
The protests have remained mostly peaceful, save for a handful of tense moments. But they have continued to end with the booms of flash bang grenades and swarms of officers, even after Mayor Rick Kriseman and Chief Anthony Holloway took a knee with protesters on Tuesday.
Holloway, who spoke Wednesday after Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, became emotional while inviting protesters to the police station, and took jeers by a woman in the crowd.
“Our people have been speaking up and we have been listening," Holloway said. “But the key thing is, I don’t think we’ve been hearing them. We’re going to start hearing some people.”
“Come to our home," he went on, pausing to compose himself. “Come to our porch. I want to listen.”
The chief said he would be there at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. every day to talk with protesters. He said the four officers in Minneapolis have set police back 100 years.
“Your officers kill innocent citizens here in St. Petersburg,” Temika Vaugh, 37, of St. Petersburg, who has been out at the police station protesting, yelled from the back.
Holloway continued to speak, ignoring Vaughn, while another man chastised him for not listening.
Tomalin talked passionately of raising a black son, Kai, who is 19, and how she felt when she saw George Floyd cry for his mama. Floyd was every black boy, every black man, she said, and his death woke up the world.
“And thank God our world woke up, including here in St. Pete,” she said. “And wide awake we stand here today in solidarity with our community that has made clear its expectations for the sacred trust between police officers and those they swore to protect and serve.”
She said the questions raised by the demonstrations will require conversations and collaboration to answer.
Activist Matt Byrd offered two proposals. He said he wants city officials to identify every mechanism in place to hold police accountable.
“I want you guys to make that process as easy as possible for us,” he said. “Now to the community, I want to challenge you all to study what’s available. And I want us to make sure that it meets our needs.”