50 years later and little has changed

Editor’s Note: James McLynas, who originally published the article below on his blog http://www.mclynas4sheriff.com, is running for sheriff of Pinellas County against the current sheriff Robert “Killer Bob” Gualtieri in the county primary election Tuesday August 30.

Gualtieri heads up the brutal colonial sheriff’s department and has the blood of the Dominique Battle, 16, La’Niya Miller, 15, and Ashaunti Butler, 15 on his hands. Gualtieri defended and upheld serial murderer deputy Howard Skaggs and other deputies after the deputies pursued and then murdered the three African girls in a high speed chase on March 31 of this year. The deputies murdered the girls by pushing their car into a pond in what is called the Pit maneuver.

Gualtieri stated that the deputies at the scene attempted to go into the water to save the dying girls, something that the videos later proved to be a bold-faced lie since the murderer Skaggs is recorded as standing back and casually remarking, “I thought I heard yelling as they are going down but they’re done. They are f–king done,” after the screams of the girls died down.

Skaggs is the same deputy who in 2002 murdered by drowning another African teen, 19 year old Laboriel Felton whose body was found to have “dirt and plant material in his airway and was hemorrhaging on the side of his head.” Felton’s death was ruled a homicide although Skaggs was never charged.

During Felton’s murder Skaggs jumped in the pond and rescued his police dog, something he refused to do for the three African girls.

McLynas is running for sheriff because, “Sheriff Gualtieri needs to go as a first step in solving the massive issues with police corruption in Pinellas County.”

In this article Mr. McLynas calls for support for Chairman Omali Yeshitela in the struggle with the city of St. Petersburg around the issue of the racist mural that the Chairman and other comrades tore down in protest when he was a young organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1966.

This article shows the connection between the two important campaigns being led by the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, “Justice for the 3 Drowned Black Girls,” and Black Community Control of the Mural.

To join this struggle or for more information go to Justice4Dominique.com or call 727.210.5925.

Fifty years later and little has changed

St Petersberg City Hall Mural Summation by The Man Who Removed the Mural

After hearing the calls to “fire Sheriff Bob” and seeing the multiple protests against Sheriff “Killer Bob” Gualtieri around Pinellas County I was naturally curious about the basis for these protests. I know the myriad of reasons I feel Sheriff Gualtieri is a dirty cop that needs to go, such as corruption, abuse of power, over militarization, lying, financial abuse, using police powers to target political opponents and much more. However, I wanted to know what these other people and groups have against him or “the system” that he represents.

It is no secret that the black community at large is no fan of Sheriff Gualtieri. Based on his extremely racist policies, his public statements blaming the black community for virtually all of the crime in Pinellas County, targeting blacks for aggressive “stop and frisk” enforcement and claiming that all of the blacks killed by his Deputies basically “deserved it” even when they are shot in the back, I can easily see why. Suffice it to say, Sheriff Bob doesn’t have many black friends and has moved as far north as he could to be away from blacks. Despite Gualtieri’s practices, crime is going up in Pinellas County while it is falling in virtually every other part of the country. Something is clearly broken in Pinellas. 

One of the more vocal opponents of Sheriff Gualtieri has been the UHURU movement headed by a man named Omali Yeshitela. Sheriff Gualtieri’s acerbic comments about Mr. Yeshitela’s and his followers have included calling them “liars, nonsense, irresponsible” and he has accused them of “harming the community” that they live in. I am sure Sheriff Gualtieri’s private comments are much worse.  Gualtieri’s position is almost comical coming from the man that has targeted the entire black community for policing for profits and has used criminal convictions of any black person he can get his hands on to block blacks from voting.

I decided to Google Mr. Yeshitela and see what was the basis for the conflict and where it had originated. I was also curious about what he meant by community controlled policing. In indulging my curiosity I came upon the story of the Mural from the St. Petersburg city hall and how Mr. Yeshitela was arrested for removing it in 1966 of which I was previously unaware.

After seeing the original mural in photos I can easily see why Mr. Yeshitela was incensed by the image and wanted to tear it down. The grotesque characterizations of the blacks performing for white beachgoers was extremely offensive and obviously so.  Hanging there in the building that represented the city and the “system” and flaunting it in the faces of the black community surely added further insult. Through what little information there was online about the event, I was able to see that he had repeatedly petitioned the City of St. Petersburg to take the mural down and his pleas fell upon deaf ears.

The city’s written responses were demeaning, dismissive and condescending, informing them that they should be “less sensitive”.  They even ridiculed him and callously made jokes about not taking it down.

In a February 4, 2016 City Council meeting, UHURU members interrupted the meeting protesting the replacement mural process in support of Mr. Yeshitela. They were forcefully removed from the meeting almost immediately and city council members made fun of them and chastised them as if they were children. One council member stated that “they couldn’t understand a word they had said” with a smirk. Interestingly enough, it was a very similar act of making fun of an elderly black woman’s grammar and claiming they couldn’t understand a word she had said (at that same building) that upset Mr. Yeshitela back in 1966. Enraged by her being disrespected, Mr. Yeshitela immediately marched up city hall steps and ripped the offensive mural off of the wall in protest.

They even went so far as to temporarily close down city hall and call in the Bomb Squad after the group was physically thrown out of the city council meeting when one of the protesters accidentally left their backpack behind. That alone shows how little they understand the group and what it is trying to accomplish when they were in essence accusing them of planting a bomb in city hall.  On the St. Pete city website, the video from that February 4 council meeting is the only one that doesn’t have a working link. I wonder why?

What was also all over the internet were several accounts of the mural removal that vilified Mr. Yeshitela as a radical extremist and a criminal. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies themselves are also merciless in their racist verbal attacks of Mr. Yeshitela on police forums showing the institutional racism that permeates that department. City officials, politicians and especially the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office (the enforcement arm of both of the former), have been extremely demeaning and antagonistic towards Yeshitela and his group.

What was clear to me was that Mr. Yeshitela was extremely passionate about what he believes in and has been so for over 50 years. What was also clear was that only one side of the whole story was being told. I wanted to hear his side of the Mural story, because it was not available through mainstream media.   

The attached YouTube video is the full account of the events leading up to the incident, the incident itself and what occurred afterwards from the man who knows more about this incident than anyone. I found his account both compelling and fully believable. I also found it even more disturbing than I had imagined it would be.  After hearing his side of the story, it really made the past, current and future planned actions of the City of St. Petersburg appear even more reprehensible than they already were. I was also unaware of the follow up police harassment and multiple false arrests after he was released from prison for “stealing” the mural.

Back in 1998, the City of St. Petersburg quietly authorized the payment of $50,000 to a white artist from Tarpon Springs to fill the blank space with a landscape mural. Many financially challenged residents viewed the $50,000 payout as an affront to the thousands of people struggling to survive day to day in St. Petersburg, yet the city can take $50,000 from citizens through taxes and throw it on a wall in a stairwell at city hall erasing the historical event that took place there. The action was protested at the time and nothing was done.

As the 50th anniversary of the removal of the mural approached, The City of St. Petersburg then announced that they were going to spend $10,000 to replace the mural with an art work and had solicited those who were interested to submit their proposal for what that replacement would be. The city has stated that the artwork should reflect the past, yet show the progress and inclusivity of a reformed city.  An Art Committee member said Yeshitela is welcome to help. “Absolutely any citizen is,” said Stacia Schrader. However, the process has already been rigged to make sure that Yeshitela and almost everybody else from the black community will not be a part of the replacement process. 

The city of St. Pete set in place an “eligibility” process that itself is a maze of rules and twists and hoops to jump through that are clearly designed to block virtually every person of color from participating. The eligible artists must meet at least two of the following criteria to have their submission even considered by the Project Committee;

  1. The artist has completed other public commissions.
  2. The artist has received awards, grants or fellowships within the past five years.
  3. The artist’s works are included in major private, corporate or museum collections
  4. The artist has exhibited in museum or gallery (solo or group) exhibitions.

Clearly this narrows down the field and excludes 99.99% of the black inhabitants of St. Pete by design, yet they will open the process up to school children, because school children can be controlled. If any members of the black community can pass through the first set of huge obstacles, there are dozens more set before them in the follow up selection process tightly controlled by the city. In other words, nothing is going to make it onto that wall that doesn’t please the whites controlling city hall, just like the first painting. The powers that be have selected each and every one of the other 100 or so works of art hanging in that building and by God they aren’t going to let the black community be represented by a single square inch of city hall wall. Not on their watch.

Yet, this replacement mural project was specifically supposed to exhibit the inclusiveness of St. Pete and how far race relations between the black community and the city have come? What appears obvious is that the entire project, the criteria and the intentions of those in charge of that blank wall space prove that apparently little to nothing has changed since they denied Mr. Yeshitela’s initial request to remove the original mural fifty years ago.

Many residents see the incident as a milestone in the city’s civil rights movement. Perkins T. Shelton, a former director of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, said he has long seen the blank wall as a memorial to the courage of the young man. Jeanie Blue, executive director of Juneteenth of Tampa Bay, a festival that celebrates the end of slavery, said a plaque would serve to record an important moment in black history. Unfortunately, she said, that is something often overlooked.”That will remind people of the evolution of the relationship with city government,” Blue said. “The more you talk about it, the easier it gets.”

What needs to be in that space is nothing more than a plaque. A memorial to the important event that occurred there in 1966 and what that event means to the black citizens of St. Pete, Pinellas County and the World. In 1999 the city had considered a proposed plaque that included an apology to Mr. Yeshitela, but the plaque was never completed. They can spend a few hundred dollars making and installing the plaque, and donate the remainder of the $10,000 to a group or organization that supports the black community. Perhaps even the organization ran by the man the plaque apologizes to.

Mr. Yeshitela has vowed to rip down whatever artwork the city places on that blank wall if it is in any way offensive, and I will bet that when he does, Sheriff Gualtieri will be there to place the cuffs on him and take him to jail again. Fifty years later, the city of St. Petersburg is still blind to their own racial antagonism and apparently nothing has changed despite any proposed painting claiming otherwise.

A reception for Chairman Omali Yeshitela on the struggle to prevent the city of St. Petersburg from whitewashing the truth about the racist mural will be held Tuesday September 13th at 6pm at Akwaaba Hall, 1245 18th Ave. South, St. Petersburg, Fl.

For more information: stpete@uhurusolidarity.org.


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