Holloway's skipping of forum on police violence against blacks doesn't sit well with some

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Omali Yeshitela, the passionate leader of the African People's Socialist Movement — best known as the Uhurus — isn't too happy with St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway.  According to Yeshitela, the new chief had committed to attending a Uhurus forum about the implications of Ferguson, but decided against it, saying he preferred to have a "broader discussion" on the issue. Holloway is instead assembling a panel of community leaders, and Yeshitela said the chief has invited him to meet at his office.

The event — "Could Ferguson Happen Here? Should Ferguson Happen Here?" — is taking place Sunday at the Uhuru House. Other local leaders, including Rev. Manuel Sykes, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Executive Director Jeffrey Copeland and a representative from the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists, are slated to attend. But Yeshitela and his group really wanted Holloway to be there, so that locals could talk to him about preventing further loss of unarmed African-American lives at the hands of law enforcement.

“It's not a small question, it's a big question, and Anthony Holloway knows that it's a big question," Yeshitela said. "And I assume that's why he initially agreed to be here.”

The forum is inspired by the shooting death of Ferguson, MO teen Michael Brown and a grand jury's subsequent decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him. Fueling the outrage was a New York grand jury's decision not to indict an NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner, an African-American father of six, by chokehold.

St. Pete has its own history in that regard, the best-known instance being the 1996 shooting death of TyRon Lewis. Speaking to the constant anxiety experienced by young African-American men in predominantly black south St. Petersburg, lifelong resident Jason Mills said he's a constant target for police.

“I've been pulled over 22 times in this year in different cars. In rental cars, in my own personal vehicle," he said. "And all the reasons have always been the same, either running a stop sign or running a red light or running over the white line at a light or a stop sign...I feel hopeless.”

Yeshitela said the biggest change he'd like to see in local law enforcement is the inclusion on the force of people who actually live within the communities they police, given that many officers don't live within city limits — let alone the south side.

"We're not talking about body cameras or review boards because we don't think that addresses the question," Yeshitela said. "What addresses the question in a very democratic way is that the black community must be in control of the police in our communities. Black people in control of the police is the only thing that makes sense at all. It's democratic. They say that there's a problem because the police doesn't understand the community, doesn't understand the culture...the people in the community understand the community.”

Sunday's forum takes place at 4 p.m. at the Uhuru House at 1245 18th Avenue S. in St. Petersburg.

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