BEST REASON FOR ST. PETE TO BE ASHAMED OF ITSELF

Race Relations

When St. Petersburg Police officers shot and killed TyRon Lewis in October of 1996, igniting riots that made national headlines, the city was already shedding its image as a small town near Tampa where old people went to die. Since then, the ´burg has come into its own in earnest, as more and younger folks are drawn to an area with character that hasn´t yet been homogenized out of existence by contemporary urbanization. A lot has changed for St. Pete over the past eight years. But maybe some things haven´t. After a period of what appeared to be social progress, this year saw a return to the ugly and volatile tensions between African-American residents and law enforcement so unforgettably spotlighted in ´96. Evidence of strained race relations has piled up over the last year: the ongoing controversy and protests over alleged racial bias on the part of BayWalk security. The May police shooting of 17-year-old Marquell McCollugh after a vehicular pursuit, and the frighteningly familiar random violence the shooting spawned. The conspicuously increased law-enforcement presence in certain southside neighborhoods in the days leading up to the resolution of a civil suit filed against the city over the Lewis shooting. Obviously, the fact that the problems didn´t make headlines for a while didn´t mean they were gone. Now that they´ve risen to the surface again, they need to be dealt with — before those who can afford to forget about them again, do.

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