Free Keith Mtundu Stewart!

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Mtundu — who was one of the first people arrested in 1996 when the police killing of TyRon Lewis and their attack on the Uhuru Movement kicked off a rebellion — was arrested and charged with inciting to riot as police beat another young African in what seemed to be an attempt to provoke another rebellion.

ST. PETERSBURG, FL — On March 16, Keith Mtundu Stewart will go to court in Pinellas County for a pre-trial hearing. It is the beginning of a court process that could result in a five-year prison sentence for the courageous young member of the Uhuru Movement. His crime? He dared to speak out when the notoriously brutal St. Petersburg Police Department, involved in one of its anti-African sweeps at a white tourist attraction, publicly beat a detained young African man.

Mtundu Stewart’s long history with the Uhuru Movement

Mtundu just happened to come upon the scene on October 3, 2003 where more than a hundred Africans were protesting the treatment of the arrested African. What he saw made his stomach turn. Several cops were manhandling the African whose name was Terry Rockmore. At least one cop used his knee to drive Rockmore’s head into the concrete floor and others were kneeing the prone and subdued man in the back.

Mtundu is not only a member of the Uhuru Movement, but he grew up in the movement from childhood. His mother is the well-known activist, Alvelita Donaldson, and his uncle is Chimurenga Waller, International President of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM). Another uncle is Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP) and leader of the movement.

Mtundu knows the police are an arm of the white ruling class colonial State, which has the responsibility of maintaining our colonial status. He also knows of the particular history of the St. Petersburg Police Department and its tradition of oppressing our people.

The police also know who Mtundu is. In fact, he was one of the first persons arrested on November 13, 1996, when a decision was made by the police chief to remove Uhuru forces off the street so the people would be politically defenseless when a grand jury announcement absolved the police department of responsibility for murdering an 18-year-old African man whose death set off a rebellion on October 24 of that same year.

Because he is tied to the Uhuru Movement by organization and blood, Mtundu knew better than anyone what to do when he saw the police beating Terry Rockmore senseless. First he joined with the protests being made by the people against what was happening in the hopes of giving Rockmore some immediate respite.

Maybe it helped Rockmore. A couple of cops eventually took him away in cuffs. That should have ended it. But it didn’t. Now, the remaining cops began to target the remaining crowd of Africans who had dared to question the authority of the police to beat Rockmore. Mtundu had turned his back on the armed forces when they attacked him from behind. The police stated that they knew he was calling the movement and declared that he was not so bad now that they had him in hand and leg cuffs.

The police-army also arrested Sean Pinckney, another witness to the beating of Rockmore. Initially they simply took Mtundu and Pinckney to the police station in St. Petersburg where they held them for a couple of hours. Then they took Pinckney back to the scene of the arrest and charged him with disorderly conduct.

In the meantime a decision was made to transfer Mtundu to the county jail in Clearwater and charge him with inciting or encouraging a riot and resisting arrest without violence. Weeks later Pinckney’s charge would also be upgraded to inciting to riot.

City of St. Petersburg has plan to keep African community oppressed

The city government, supported by a Negro columnist for the local white nationalist bourgeois newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, the local head of the NAACP, who has since received a lucrative million dollar deal from the City, and the head of the corporation that owns the tourist attraction where the arrests took place, claims the arrests were simply a consequence of rowdy criminal activity by less-than-civilized African youths.

However, the story is far more complicated than that. The reality is that the arrests represent a pattern of behavior by the City, which is bent on making economic development at the expense of the African community. It is a process that keeps the mass of African people impoverished, functioning as a reserve labor force for the white tourist industry. It is a process that must necessarily deny the African people our own economic development and requires police containment of the colonized African people as a substitute for economic development.

Additionally, since the October 24, 1996 police murder of 18-year-old TyRon Lewis, the subsequent rebellion that the government claimed was initiated by our movement and the November 13, 1996 rebellion following a police attack on the Uhuru House — the headquarters of the Uhuru Movement — the police department has been on the defensive.

On one occasion the people succeeded in forcing the hiring of an African police chief who adopted the same political line as the movement. Following his removal by a new administration, the people forced the next chief to be fired within days for characterizing Africans as orangutans.

In fact, the last mayoral election revolved around the treatment of Africans by the police and the need for genuine economic development for the African community.

This is a political situation that resulted from the leadership of the Uhuru Movement that made no secret of the fact that we are a movement for black freedom under the leadership of the African working class, the most victimized sector of the police and body politic of the city.

Negro leaders collaborate with attack on African working class

“ It is clear that the attack on Mtundu and Pinkney is… an attempt to intimidate the people. It is a statement that if you resist or protest brutality this is what can happen to you. ”

For years now, the city and the white ruling elite have been struggling to take back the political space won by our movement. The white ruling elite must have the ability to exercise its will through the power of the police. For this to happen, every effort had to be made to minimize the influence of the Uhuru Movement.

This is where the role of the St. Petersburg Times was crucial. It has long had in its service one Bill Maxwell, a Negro columnist who writes the most disparaging things about African people and our families. His columns support the notion that we are responsible for our own colonial plight. It is the old “pathological” or diseased community position that white people cannot easily use themselves without being exposed for what they are.

Secondly, the election of Darryl Rousson as head of the local NAACP also served the purpose of the white ruling class in pushing the people back and undermining the influence of the Uhuru Movement.

Rousson has made it a point to act as an apologist for every police attack on the African community. This includes the occasion when the St. Petersburg Times announced that the police had arrested more than 490 mostly Africans after a months long process to get drugs and guns off the street.

Even after the Uhuru Movement published an analysis to prove that the majority of the Africans arrested were arrested for traffic warrants and ridiculous charges like “throwing away a ’lighted object,’” Rousson continued to apologize for the police.

When the “BayWalk Three” were arrested on October 3 of last year, the NAACP leader was the person called out by Sembler Corporation, the tourist attraction owner, to justify the arrest and treatment of the Africans. And he did exactly that in an interview in the St. Petersburg Times. 

 

African youths targeted at BayWalk entertainment center

While the City’s version of economic development in this white tourist town requires massive gentrification of the African community, displacing thousands of people from their homes with the assistance of the city government, white corporations — and even white individuals — are reaping a windfall. BayWalk is a tourist entertainment complex with a movie theatre, specialty shops, restaurants and night clubs that was paid for in part with $12 million in taxpayers’ dollars.

Building BayWalk was a successful part of an effort to revitalize downtown St. Petersburg. The problem is that Africans, perhaps aware of the fact that their tax dollars also built the complex, often come to be entertained as well. No problem — except if we come dressed in the manner that most young Africans dress, the so-called urban hip-hop dress. Apparently the white owners of BayWalk have determined that Africans who look too African, especially if they are young, will frighten or otherwise disturb the white people who BayWalk was created to serve.

And although Maxwell and Rousson denied this reality, the police itself have had to admit there is a serious disparity in the nationality of the youth being banned from coming to the complex, with young Africans of course being the great majority.

The police department and the City of St. Petersburg want to punish the African community and the Uhuru Movement for the rebellions of 1996. They also want to push back the power and democratic space that the people fought for and won in the wake of the assassination of TyRon Lewis.

These are among the reasons for the attempt to send Mtundu to prison for five years. These are the reasons why we must resist.

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Since October, the Uhuru Movement has been holding demonstrations at the BayWalk complex and elsewhere to demand the charges be dropped against Mtundu and Sean Pinckney and that BayWalk end its culturally-specific policies that target African youths.

We must defend the rights of African community

Right now we are involved in protest demonstrations at BayWalk every Friday night. More and more people are joining the protests, including young North Americans or whites, who ironically are also targeted for dressing too black. We are calling on everyone to join us. The demonstrations happen each Friday at 9 p.m. More information can be obtained by coming by or calling the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg.

These demonstrations are demanding that the charges be dropped against Mtundu and Pinckney. Rockmore has already pled guilty to disorderly conduct at an advisory hearing some time ago. He was sentenced to the 24 hours time he had served before getting out of jail on October 4, 2003. The demonstrations are also demanding that BayWalk end its culturally-specific policies that target African young people.

In addition, we are beginning a “Watch the Police” campaign. It is clear that the attack on Mtundu and Pinckney is based on the fact that the police do not want anyone to watch and comment on their actions against their people. This is an attempt to intimidate the people. It is a statement that if you resist or protest brutality this is what can happen to you.

However, we refuse to accept intimidation of the people. Therefore, we are putting together patrols of the police by Africans armed with camcorders and cameras. These Africans will make efforts to be on the spot whenever Africans come into contact with the police and to record the event.

We believe this can make a big difference in how the police treat the people and will allow the people to strike back against police terror in an organized way within the political parameters offered us at the moment.

To support these efforts and to join the campaign to defend Keith Mtundu Stewart and Sean Pinckney, come by or write to the Uhuru House at: 1245 18th Ave. So., St. Petersburg, Fl 33705.

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