St Petersburg: Rebellion 2 Follows Unjust Verdict

Revolutionary Worker #883, November 24, 1996

On November 13, a grand jury in St. Petersburg, Florida cleared a white cop who shot and killed a Black man in cold blood during a minor traffic stop. Immediately, St. Petersburg's Black community rose up in a just and determined rebellion. This was the second rebellion in less than three weeks. The first took place on October 24, right after the police killing.

According to news reports, groups of youth took to the streets with rocks, chunks of concrete and Molotov cocktails. Fires burned in many locations. Hundreds of riot police blocked off streets and fired tear gas, but they were met with fierce resistance. One cop was shot in the leg, and a sheriff's helicopter was forced to the ground when a bullet pierced the windshield. The St. Petersburg police chief said, "There were several instances when officers were pinned down behind cars, having to take cover from gunfire."

On October 24, 18-year-old TyRon Lewis was killed by Officer Jim Knight. The police claimed that TyRon was stopped for speeding and refused to "obey any verbal commands." Knight then shot TyRon through the windshield when the car supposedly "made a lurch" toward the cop.

TyRon was the second victim of police execution in less than two weeks. People in St. Petersburg's Black community have lived through years of crude racism and brutality from the police department. Hours after TyRon was shot, hundreds of people faced off with more than 400 cops and sheriff's deputies. TV coverage showed cops cowering behind their cars as they were showered with rocks and bottles.

The police department's own review board suspended Knight for 60 days because he placed himself "in a position of disadvantage and danger." In other words, the cop had deliberately escalated the situation. But the police still declared that the shooting of TyRon Lewis was "justifiable." And the grand jury put an official seal of approval on the unjust verdict.

When the people delivered their verdict in the streets, city officials tried a media counter-offensive by announcing that large stockpiles of rocks and bottles had been discovered in recent days in the neighborhoods where the rebellions broke out. These are the same officials who have sent hundreds of heavily armed riot police to clamp down on the Black community. And these authorities have just exonerated a cop for killing a Black man during a minor traffic incident. The people have every right to defend themselves by any means necessary against the brutal, racist cops!

The city authorities also accused the National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, which has a house in the neighborhood, of "inciting" the people. Several Uhuru members were arrested on minor traffic charges right after the grand jury cleared Knight. According to the New York Times, the police chief told reporters that "his officers had planned to arrest three members of the group to prevent them from joining in any violence." This was a totally outrageous--and illegal--pre-emptive attack against a political organization. It should be denounced by everyone opposed to the government and police moves to trample on people's rights.

A man who lives in the neighborhood where the rebellions broke out made a simple and straightforward statement of right and wrong: "They [the police] didn't have to kill that man. That's what it all boils down to." The rebellions in St. Petersburg were a righteous and powerful response by the people to police murder and official whitewash.

After the October 24 rebellion, an RW correspondent talked to people in St. Petersburg. Here are some quotes from those talks:

"There were people young and old setting fires, throwing rocks. People are tried of this shit. The police even warned people to get off the streets or they would shoot anyone, women and children too."
Vietnam vet in his 50s who witnessed the police murder of TyRon Lewis.

"Police raids are common. A month ago, they fired tear gas cannisters into an apartment complex occupied by many children, including my friends'. Their so-called drug search came up empty, but two kids had to seek ER treatment at Bayside Medical for respiratory difficulties."
Black teenage woman

"It was wrong to kill that child, and if I was able to walk, I woulda rioted too."
81-year-old resident of Jordan Park housing project

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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