ST. PETERSBURG, FL — “When those who are supposed to uphold the law act like outlaws themselves, the people have the justification and responsibility to do whatever is necessary to stop them.”
Those were the words of Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party and founder of the St. Petersburg-based Uhuru Movement at a press conference denouncing the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department’s murder of 19-year-old Jarrell Walker.
The unarmed 19-year-old was shot three times in the back by deputies on April 12. He was the second African to be killed by deputies in less than a year.
Marquell McCullough, the 17-year-old African murdered by deputies before Jarrell, died amidst 14 shots fired at his pick-up truck in a case of “mistaken identity” on May 2, 2004.
The injustice of these murders struck a note with members of the African community who, during a routine gathering at Childs Park, listened to Uhuru Movement organizers and family members of the recently murdered 19-year-old expose the brutality and viciousness of the police and America in the lives of African people.
The crowd grew larger and larger as the organizers continued with a simple message: the police are organized to carry out America’s interests, which includes seeing nearly every African dead or in jail. We have to have our own organization that protects the lives and rights of our people against a system that has never done anything but attack our ability to live and control our own lives.
No more getting picked off one at a time. We’ve got to organize for black power and freedom.
Police attack on African gathering met with resistance
As the crowd of hundreds related to the pain, anger and frustration of our people’s oppression, police began sealing off the park’s perimeter in order to restrict and limit access to any additional members of the community.
The police then began ticketing cars near the park in a clear effort to harass park-goers.
“I’ve been living here for 20 years, and I have never gotten a ticket for parking at Childs Park. Why are you doing this?” asked one local woman.
Additional police arrived with cameras to record the statements of organizers and to intimidate the people from resisting.
It was made clear, however, that the right to free speech and the right to resist oppression would be upheld on camera or off as organizers boldly challenged the police to stop the people’s right to free speech and free assembly.
Members of the crowd respected the fearlessness of organizers to say what needed to be said and do what needed to be done regardless of whether the police liked it or not.
As the speeches wrapped up and the flyers reading “The Police Have A License to Kill… We Have A Right To Resist,” were handed out to everyone, organizers informed people of what to expect from the police after members of the Uhuru Movement left.
When organizers went to put away the bullhorn and flyers and observe the police from a nearby vehicle, officers attempted to force people out of the park and disperse what was up to then a peaceful gathering.
People began to move out of the city park, but once they got to the sidewalk they upheld their right to be on public property.
Police then lined up at least ten across and began spraying potentially lethal doses of pepper-spray against a crowd that included children, pregnant women and the elderly.
One 12-year-old child was seriously affected by the dosage.
Jo Ann Brewer, 59, was in her own yard when she saw her teenage pregnant neighbor being attacked by police.
Masses of Africans demonstrated in front of the St. Pete police headquarters letting the State know that they can’t murder our people without paying a price.
Explaining what happened, Ms. Brewer said, “They slung her against the car. I yelled, ‘Don’t slam her against the car! She’s pregnant!’ Then this cop walks up to my gate and says, ‘Do you think that because you’re behind that gate you won’t go to jail?’”
Ms. Brewer was then snatched by her arm, kneed in the back and legs as she was forced against a fence, handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by another officer.
In order to stop the police from hurting members of the community, people threw rocks and bottles at police to cover people’s escape from the police attack. As the night went on AK-47 fire could be heard as shots were taken at the police helicopter. Other skirmishes with police were reported throughout the night.
There is a long pattern and history of police murdering African people all across the U.S. There is not a recent pattern however, of a righteously militant response to such murders — except in St. Petersburg, Florida, the headquarters of the Uhuru Movement and the growing resistance to U.S. imperialism and colonialism within U.S. borders.
In every instance of police murder since the 1996 killing of 18-year-old TyRon Lewis, the justice that the African community has been denied in the courts, has been fought for in the streets. During the rebellions of 1996, which spanned two months, everyday African youth, who were called the “ghostfaces” because they covered their faces with t-shirts and bandannas, shot down a helicopter, burned police substations, media vehicles and anything that represented white power. The masses of people also opened fire on a battle group of 300 police officers that had surround the headquarters of the Uhuru Movement, forcing their retreat.
In 2004, after Marquell McCullough’s killers were cleared, masses of people flooded the streets. Guerrilla warfare ensued as rocks, bottles and bullets flew at police over a period of several nights.
The ferocity of the community’s organized and calculated strikes against U.S. police troops represents the cutting edge of resistance to a dying but not yet dead North American system of imperialism and colonialism.
To deal with the resistance, the city has used black collaborators like local NAACP president Darryl Rouson and local preacher Louis Murphy — both of whom are receiving kickbacks from the city government through backdoor deals — to speak out against the people on the political front.
On the military front, police have equipped themselves with Colt AR-15’s, the semi-automatic variety of the weapon being used in Iraq.
“[U.S.] cities are not combat zones, but when you arm the police with assault rifles, you run the risk of turning them into combat zones. I doubt there are very many communities outside Iraq where you need that kind of firepower,” said Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C in a statement to a local newspaper.
The reality of course, is that every African community is a combat zone, the only difference in St. Pete is that African people fight back to defend and advance the interests of our community. Our people’s objective must be to defend and expand the resistance throughout the African world. We have to have the right to live and be free and the right to resist our oppression.
On November 13, 2005 the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement and its parent organization the African People’s Socialist Party will be convening an international mobilization in the city of St. Pete to uphold the African community’s right to resist its oppression. We are calling on all freedom loving people to be in attendance.
Contact the Uhuru Movement headquarters at 727-821-6620.
The police arrested Orrin Walker, the brother of the murdered Jarrell Walker, with no basis and charged him with inciting a riot in an attempt to stop the resistance.