ST. PETERSBURG — Madge Sanders Cooks stood Saturday with tears streaming down her cheeks as she held her “Enough is Enough” sign aloft at the corner of 34th Street S and 18th Avenue S. Occasionally, she joined the chants echoing across the intersection as nearly three dozen or so took part in the rally protesting the rising gun violence in the city.
This week in particular, the 63-year-old grandmother said, she’s been depressed by gun violence in the community. There were seven shootings in November alone that left three dead and injured seven.
Then on Wednesday, just three miles away, a 20-year-old man facing arrest tried to plow through police vehicles and shot and wounded an officer, authorities say. Dominique Harris was then killed when officers fired at him, striking him 38 times. The afternoon gun battle was broadcast on Facebook and roiled the community.
“It’s just so heartbreaking,” said Sanders Cooks, who was struck by how many times officers fired at Harris (six officers fired 50 bullets, authorities say.) “All of them unloaded their guns on him.”
She said the shooting brought up the same kind of feelings of anxiety, sadness, and anger that arose following the death of George Floyd. The unarmed man was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May while in custody, sparking a summer of national protests against police violence and racial injustice.
But Sanders Cooks says she also worries about the mentality of today’s youth, influenced by video games, media, and rap music that she says glorifies violence. Black families deal with so much in the outside world, she said, that they may not be able to focus on having honest discussions about violence and coping with strong emotions.
“As I was growing up, the village took care of us,” she said. That village supported her through her youth and later held her up through the trauma of losing her youngest brother to gun violence. He was 20 then, just a year younger than her.
Now people don’t know their own neighbors, she said. “The village is missing.”
Saturday’s “Enough is Enough” sign-waving event is part of a broader movement to end gun violence organized by St. Petersburg City Council members Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman. The rally was scheduled before Wednesday’s police shooting.
Residents, elected officials, and pastors gathered at noon at the busy intersection to wave signs and raise awareness about the movement, pray and call for action against gun violence.
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“I’m extremely exhausted about (the violence),” said Ron Dock, who has lived in the city for three decades now. The pandemic has exacerbated the hardships faced by the community, he said, and has significantly impacted residents’ mental health.
He believes that has contributed to the increase in violence. Mental health, Dock said, is “the underlying thing in all of this.”
“It’s generational trauma,” said Kay-Kay Smith, 48, who also stood waving signs. But “we don’t have to submit to that. We can step up to be the kings and queens that we are.”
Smith said she remembers moments growing up in Miami where she ran home from school escaping gun violence. Now, as a mother of four, she’s calling for an increase in the visibility of Black professionals to help St. Petersburg’s youth and shift their mindset. They need to see that they, too, can grow up to become community leaders, or even members of Congress.
“It starts with building up Black children from when they’re little,” she said.
Those attending the rally called on elected officials to keep discussions of gun violence at the forefront of community conversation.
Events like Saturday’s sign-waving mark a step forward in getting the discussion going, said the Rev. Kenneth Irby, but he believes public policy must also be part of the solution.
Some say there are too many guns on the street, Irby said, then asked: “Okay well, what are we doing about that?”
“Any loss of life is a loss we’ll respond to,” he said. “We need to hold ourselves accountable.”
Around 1 p.m. — after an hour of sign waving — the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr. of Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church closed the event with a prayer.
“We’re praying for peace in our streets,” he said. “Not another Black son. Not another daughter.”
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.
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