ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders stood in the parking lot outside a convenience store on 18th Avenue S and read aloud nine names and dates to a crowd of city leaders and television cameras on Tuesday evening.
They were the names of those who were fatally shot this year. The dates are when they were killed.
It was the last two names that she read aloud that drew dozens to the vigil:
"Deauntazies Ramsey, 26,” she said, “Nov. 14, killed by gun violence.”
“Arnieceia Milton, 23, Nov. 15, killed by gun violence.”
The crowed gathered for dual purposes. They mourned the deaths of Ramsey, who was killed in that very parking lot outside the Food Max grocery store early Saturday, and Milton, a mother of two, who was a bystander killed the next night on nearby 16th Street S.
They also came to stand together to call for action — and an end to gun violence.
“Enough is enough St. Pete," said Figgs-Sanders, who led the event, wiping down the microphone between each speaker.
“We’re better than this as a community,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said.
“We cannot allow the loss of Black lives to gun violence to become the norm," wrote state Sen. Darryl Rouson and state Rep. Michele Rayner in a joint statement by the St. Petersburg legislators that was read aloud by Figgs-Sanders.
Milton’s mother, Angela Wheeler, was on hand for the event. She said afterward that she still doesn’t know what she should feel. Right now she just feels emptiness. She said she wanted justice, and that her daughter was an innocent bystander.
“I know she’s looking over us,” Wheeler said. “I have her kids, and they’re going to be good.”
During the event, Wheeler was consoled by her cousin, Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, whose life had already been altered by a deadly shooting in 2008. That’s when her 21-year-old son Cabretti Wheeler was killed.
“You’ve suffered too much already for gun violence,” Kriseman said, turning to her.
When it was her turn to take the microphone, Wheeler-Bowman said the late night block parties that happen along 16th Street S on the weekends — Milton was attending one when she was shot — need to end.
She said St. Petersburg police have been conducting extra patrols in the area for months, but that it’s ultimately business and property owners who are allowing people to loiter late at night and early in the morning on their properties.
The parking lot that Tuesday’s vigil was held in was the scene of another homicide weeks earlier: Bernard Nixon, 38, was also killed and another man wounded at the Food Max on Sept. 19.
“I’ll do everything that I can as a council member — and when I’m out of council — to make sure it ends,” she said of the parties. “It’s time for the community to step up. I applaud our officers, but we need the community.”
The Rev. Louis Murphy of Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church was one of several clergy on hand and led a prayer to close the service. He also spoke during the vigil, saying it’s time for the community to “rise up” and “band together" and “be accountable.”
“We have an obligation,” he said. “We march, we protest, when one of our sworn officers kill one of our people. And rightfully so, because they are sworn to uphold the law. But if it’s my son or my grandson, I don’t care who is behind the trigger ...
“So I challenge us, not just to have this rah rah session today. Let’s come together and do something. Let’s put a strategic plan together to take back our city.”