The city’s attack on the Uhuru House on November 13, 1996 was an attempt to wipe out the leadership of the Uhuru Movement and the African working class.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL — The date was November 13, 1996. The verdict had come in that officer James Knight had every right to shoot and kill 18-year-old TyRon Lewis.
That night, during a regular meeting of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, the Uhuru House was filled with concerned and outraged community members, some of whom had witnessed TyRon’s murder only to learn that his killer would go free.
Rebellions had already taken place in the city after TyRon’s killing on October 24, 1996. Police substations, vehicles, media trucks and police themselves came under fire from a community consistently denied justice.
In order to “brace itself” for the African community’s response to the verdict, the city government decided to launch a preemptive strike against the Uhuru Movement and the masses of people.
Prior to the November 13 meeting, police arrested leading members of the Uhuru Movement in anticipation of the verdict to prevent their leadership presence on the streets.
As the meeting unfolded, people discussed the community’s political response to the verdict. That process was interrupted by an announcement from police who had assembled a battle group of 300 troops outside the doors of the Uhuru House. Over a loudspeaker, a commanding officer declared that the regular meeting of the organization was now an unlawful assembly and that the occupants — which included men, women and children of all ages — had five minutes to leave the building.
Thirty seconds later, police began to launch every canister of tear gas they held in the city armory at the Uhuru House. The canisters were also used as incendiary devices to set fires in trees close to the building in an effort to burn the two story structure to the ground.
As the police began to move in, members of the community could be seen running out of their homes with buckets of water to extinguish the fires that the police set around the Uhuru House. At the same time, from unknown positions, Africans began to open fire at police troops in an effort to force their retreat.
“If not for the courageous and righteous resistance of the masses of African people that night, it is quite possible that The Burning Spear would no longer be in print and that leaders of the Uhuru Movement would no longer be alive. ”
Moments later a commanding officer gave the order, “Pull the troops back, we’re under heavy fire!” The order to retreat would not come before three officers were wounded and a police helicopter was shot out of the sky.
If not for the courageous and righteous resistance of the masses of African people that night, it is quite possible that The Burning Spear would no longer be in print and that leaders of the Uhuru Movement would no longer be alive.
Depositions of witnesses and victims of the police attack have begun in the opening rounds of the legal battle being waged against the city for its violation of the most basic democratic rights of the African community that night in 1996.
The opening rounds in the lawsuit against the city of St. Pete comes after two more young Africans, Marquell McCullough, 17, and Jarrell Walker, 19, have been killed by law enforcement. Two more rebellions followed each of these killings.
The lawsuit is another important component in the battle to uphold the community’s fundamental rights, which includes the right to resist oppression.
Following the most recent rebellions in response to Jarrell Walker’s murder, it has become clear that the city and perhaps federal government is considering another attack on the organization and the community.
It remains to be seen when or if they will decide to carry out such plans, but it should be known throughout the African world and by readers of The Burning Spear that African people have a right and responsibility to resist oppression and that those rights must be defended by our entire international community.
Attend the International Conference for African’s Right to Resist happening on the ninth anniversary of the U.S. police attack on the Uhuru House, November 13, 2005 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Call 727-821-6620 for more information.