Dear Honorable Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council Members:
This letter is to serve as a formal complaint on behalf of the African-American citizens—who now represent approximately 24 percent of the City of St. Petersburg’s population—regarding the unprecedented, unwarranted and most insulting use of what appeared to be a “lockdown” of the African-American community on the day that this nation (inclusive of the City of St. Petersburg, Florida) has reserved for the celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., January 16, 2018.
Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter
On this day, residents and entrepreneurs on the 9th Street South Corridor, predominately African American, were not allowed to congregate, sell or celebrate after 6 p.m.
On this day, once revered for the elimination of segregation and Jim Crowism now a Day of Service; on this day, for the last 30 plus years the City of St. Petersburg has honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a parade, noted as one of the largest in the southeast along with a band competition, selling of food and related products, fellowship and laughter.
It is regarded as a Day of Freedom despite the residual institutionalized racism faced by residents in St. Petersburg and the nation. For example, the death of African Americans or excessive use of police force on black people still results in a paid administrative leave pending investigation and the results of the police action are deemed justified.
Even though there is much “unfinished business” as African Americans continue to pursue the closing of opportunity gaps and disparities that plague the community, mostly south St. Petersburg residents of color and friends of residents of color have historically celebrated this day without curfews, disguised Marshall Law or “lockdown” until January 16, 2018.
It is most troubling to see such police action resembling those applied to unwanted communities in a foreign land, or in communities of great unrest following a riot or in a community with massive criminal activity such as unsolved serial killings. None of these situations apply; thus, the outrage for such police insensitivity and misapplication. The police approach of “Park, Walk and Talk” will never be taken seriously when the police revert to an approach to policing that is so dehumanizing and restrictive.
Therefore, many citizens of the City of St. Petersburg have several recommendations to foster healing in order that the sun in the City of St. Petersburg shines on all of us. They include:
An apology from you, Mr. Mayor, as the responsible party for allowing such behavior without warning or cause
A refresher in diversity training and customer service for assigned officers in south St. Petersburg
A city staff person assigned to the MLK Day Celebration to ensure civil rights are protected, allocations are equitable and the scope and kind of celebrations are aligned with residents’ desire. Note: The business community, especially those who do not look like us, has 364 days to enjoy business as usual protocols
This city staff person will sit on a community task force selected by the African-American community for the array of celebrations for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the Black History Month’s activities that follow
Your prompt attention to this matter is warranted. Please feel free to contact me for additional information or clarification. I look forward to building a collaborative relationship with the City of St. Petersburg that fosters the development of a full celebratory event worthy of the Dr. King’s legacy with respect for all communities and public safety.
Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter, The Grassroots Community Activist
Cc: Chief Anthony Holloway
Citizens Police Review Board
The NAACP St. Petersburg Branch
Maria L. Scruggs, President of the NAACP
Janet Wright, Chairperson of the NAACP Coordination Committee