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St. Petersburg leaders grapple with spate of November shootings

Seven separate shootings have occurred this month, killing three and injuring seven.
Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, holding the microphone, spoke at a recent vigil for her cousin, Arnieceia Milton, 23, who was shot and killed this month. She stood next to Angela Wheeler, Milton's mother. "I just feel so empty," Wheeler said after the vigil.
Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, holding the microphone, spoke at a recent vigil for her cousin, Arnieceia Milton, 23, who was shot and killed this month. She stood next to Angela Wheeler, Milton's mother. "I just feel so empty," Wheeler said after the vigil. [ JOSH SOLOMON | Times ]
Published Nov. 28, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — The same day city and community leaders gathered to say “Enough is enough” to gun violence following two deadly shootings in two days, more shots rang out in the night.

This time, a man was shot in the 900 block of 13th Avenue S, left with non-life threatening injuries, according to St. Petersburg police.

Six days later, the night of Nov. 23, police responded to another shooting in the area of 803 15th Street S. The victim was taken to a hospital, where another man showed up with a gunshot wound from a separate shooting near 45th Avenue S and Dr. Martin Luther King Street S. Less than 24 hours later, three more people were shot in the 1000 block of Ninth Avenue S, police said.

All in all, seven separate shootings have occurred this month, killing three and injuring seven, according to police. Data was not available this week to indicate how that number compares to prior months — the agency tracks shootings in the broader category of aggravated battery, said spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez. And, unlike Tampa, where police have seen a sharp uptick in homicides compared to last year, St. Pete’s homicide count is at 14, the same as this time last year.

Related: ‘Enough is enough.’ St. Petersburg leaders denounce gun violence

But this month’s wave of violence is enough to concern community and city leaders as they try to pin down why the shootings are happening and how to stop them.

“We need to be on the front end,” police Chief Anthony Holloway said. “What do we need to do to stop this young man from shooting someone? What do we need to do to stop this crisis so it doesn’t become a police issue?”

Detectives have determined the circumstances that led up to some of the events. Both a Nov. 14 shooting that killed 26-year-old Deauntazies L. Ramsey, and a Nov. 15 shooting that killed Arnieceia Milton, a 23-year-old mother of two, started with arguments, according to police. Milton was at a gathering in a plaza parking lot on 16th Street S, one of many unsanctioned block parties in recent months that have drawn the attention of police.

The most recent shooting that injured two teenagers and a 20-year-old was a drug deal gone awry, Holloway said. The recent shootings don’t appear to be connected, he said, and the shooters and victims are generally known to each other.

Understanding the underlying causes is more difficult. District 5 City Council Member Deborah Figgs-Sanders said she learned during a recent National League of Cities summit that many cities were experiencing a rise in gun violence, and several national media reports confirm that.

City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders during a St. Pete City. Council meeting this year.
City Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders during a St. Pete City. Council meeting this year. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Figgs-Sanders, who participated in last week’s vigil, suspects the coronavirus pandemic plays a role. The virus has killed family members, forced people into close quarters and left hundreds of thousands jobless.

It’s also hit Pinellas County’s Black residents particularly hard, which experts and community leaders attribute to a history of systemic neglect, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis. Cases were concentrated in the southern tip of the county, where most of St. Petersburg’s Black residents live. That’s where the city’s recent shootings have occurred, a majority clustered around the 16th Street S corridor.

Related: One of Florida’s biggest disparities: How coronavirus spread in Pinellas’ Black community

“I have to think a lot of it has to do with the pandemic and the limited social interaction our community is facing,” said Figgs-Sanders, whose district covers some neighborhoods around Lake Maggiore south to Pinellas Point.

Economic and social disparities that preceded and have continued through the pandemic are also likely driving the violence, she said. That’s why she, Council Member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, one of Milton’s cousins who also lost her son to gun violence in 2008, and other city leaders are making the “Enough is enough” rallying cry from last week’s vigil into a movement aimed at helping provide social services to residents and bolstering local businesses.

“We need to go where everyone is and include everyone holistically,” Figgs-Sanders said, “and move away from what would cause you to pick up a gun and think that is the only option.”