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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