White supporters of African liberation denounce police occupation of black community in St. Petersburg, Florida

On Wednesday, February 23, 2011, the Uhuru Solidarity Movement held a press conference to address the recent shooting of a police officer and subsequent military occupation of the black community in St. Petersburg, FL.

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement is an organization of white Euro-Americans who organize under the leadership of the African-led Uhuru Movement to build reparations and material solidarity with the struggle for African liberation. Below is the statement delivered at the press conference by Penny Hess, Chairperson of the African People's Solidarity Committee.

Last night the St. Petersburg police announced the “surrender” of an African youth, barely 16 years old, in the murder of a policeman in this city on Feb. 22. In violation of their longstanding policy, the police released the young person’s name and showed his picture on TV.

Instead of examining the reasons why a young teenager would take such an action, the police and the city of St. Petersburg have successfully demonized this young man and the whole African community in a city and a country that have already criminalized African people as threats to US white society.

We have to look at the reality that this is a teenager from a deeply impoverished African community growing up in a city that has in the recent period seen the police murders of several unarmed black teenaged men. This young man faced a bleak future in a community without jobs and economic development, with a mere 21 percent graduation rate for black males, and with 50 percent unemployment rates for African youth. The fact is 75 percent of black men in this country will be arrested and jailed before the age of 36, regardless of their actions, in a system that arrests black men 6 times more often than white men. This is a young man who grew up in a community that the mayor and city government invested millions of dollars into in order to gentrify, moving in white people while dispersing the African community.

We are standing in front of what has been “command central” here on First Avenue South, a full-blown military staging ground with tanks, trucks, armored vehicles and tents, involving hundreds of police forces, machine gun toting SWAT teams and other militarized forces. This was not set up to arrest someone; this was set up to terrorize the entire African community and put them under military occupation. This command center is here to treat the African community as an enemy population.

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement denounces this collective punishment of the historic African community of St. Petersburg following the shooting death of a police officer on Monday night.

From the white community we denounce what is the blatant and very violent retaliation against a whole impoverished community involving a 33 square-block siege including the systematic searches of cars by police armed with assault weapons and machine guns.

Police from several agencies, including the Florida Highway Patrol, the Tampa Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office met in the parking lot of Tropicana Field.

Heavily armed, military style police forces were storming through the African community in intimidating house-to-house searches, supposedly looking for the suspect. The community reported police in military uniforms and checkpoints on every corner, with helicopters flying overhead, even as the police had stated to the media that they had no expectations of finding the suspect.

The policeman was shot near downtown, but the area under siege has been the African community several blocks south, even though the white community several blocks north could have been cordoned off.

The area where the shooting happened is a neighborhood that is being highly gentrified by the white community. Police descended on the area, after a resident called the police on a supposed “prowler” who had committed no crime. The Uhuru Solidarity Movement calls on the white community and the neighborhood associations to end the vigilante stance of calling the police anytime they see a black person walking down the sidewalk in their neighborhoods—actions that often escalate into police violence.

This is the area where St. Petersburg mayors and powers-that-be have pumped millions of dollars into gentrification with the goal of dispersing the impoverished community for the benefit of white investors and homeowners. This has resulted in an escalation of foreclosures and home losses due to enforced code violations, driving out African people who once were confined to this area and not allowed to leave after night fall.

The current brutal police occupation constitutes collective punishment of the African community of St. Petersburg in a way that is completely comparable to the collective punishment of the entire Palestinian population that is routinely imposed by the Israeli settler forces.

Such a military occupation is racist and reserved for the African community. Despite examples of white people shooting police in recent months, the entire white community is never put on lock down by revenge filled storm troops from the police department.

The fact is that the African community of St. Petersburg has long struggled against the heavy-handed policing and policies of police containment that have targeted the African community for many years. These policies have resulted in repeated police murders of young black men, along with daily harassment of citizens, including for driving while black regardless of age or gender.

This is a community under siege every day, where a nonviolent marijuana bust involves numerous police cars, SWAT teams, flash grenades and yellow tape cordoning off whole neighborhoods.

We express our outrage at the ongoing police murders of African teenaged men from TyRon Lewis, to Jarrell Walker, Marquel McCullough and Javon Dawson all who were brutally gunned down by police under the guise of a war on drugs, which is in fact a war against the African community.

Such murders do not happen in the white community despite the fact that according to US government statistics 75 percent of all drug users and sellers are white.

The St. Petersburg African community is a community where ¾ of the people live below the poverty line, where five year old children have been arrested and handcuffed by police, where unemployment is rampant and where only one-fifth of African students get a high school diploma.

This is the community where after the murder of Hydra Lacy last month, Mayor Foster unlawfully destroyed Lacy’s house and all the evidence so nobody will ever really know what happened. Foster who is the law and order mayor, clearly overstepped his authority.

All around the world, in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, we are seeing resistance to very similar conditions of imposed poverty and police repression. The entire world applauds this resistance. These same conditions are happening here.

Uhuru Solidarity Movement believes that all people have a right to resist injustice. The conditions of ongoing menacing, violent and deadly police force and relentless poverty and gentrification facing the African community of St. Petersburg has created an intolerable situation in which people have a right to struggle for justice.

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement stands in solidarity with the right of African people to resist. We stand for reparations to the families of all the young African men murdered by the police. We demand an end to this police containment and martial law in which young African people grow up in war zones created by police containment policies. We join the African community in demanding genuine economic development to uplift the entire community out of poverty.

We say “hands off the African community.” We want justice in this town, with no one community living at the expense of any other community. We demand an end to gentrification and dispersal and stand for economic development that the city promised to the African community in 1996 but never delivered. We don’t want police occupation in our town. We want justice and unity. All young people should have the ability to have a future, not some at the expense of others. We call on other white people to look at the real conditions faced by African people and see that the only solution is economic and social justice.



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