On Jan. 15, I hurriedly got dressed to go the MLK Day Parade. MLK Day is a great day for me. It represents the divine recognition and celebration of a great black prophet—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man of peace, unity and collaboration.
Dr. King represents the best in mankind to live peaceably together. He was a champion for the oppressed, the disenfranchised and the marginalized. He called upon all righteous people to do better and be better.
My son and I made it to the parade. I was so proud as a black man and as a father to see our people and our friends in the struggle marching as one to celebrate Dr. King and all that he stood for.
The St. Petersburg MLK Day Parade is one of the biggest in the nation. After the parade, we made our way down to Tropicana Field for the Family Fun Day festivities. There was entertainment (even my son was on stage rapping) and vendors selling their goods (participating in business entrepreneurship). There were peoples of all races, all backgrounds, all nationalities dancing and enjoying the festivities—celebrating.
It looked like a great African village when they get together to celebrate. When the festival ended, my chest was still poked out in pride. I headed to one of the mothers from my church house that lives off of Martin Luther King, Jr. Street, but we were stopped by a police presence that reminded me of the police show of force that met the civil rights marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965.
My chest sank. When I inquired as to why there was such a show of force on MLK Street on MLK Day, I was very rudely told by a St. Petersburg Police officer to “turn there and keep it moving.”
I was not allowed access to MLK Street on MLK Day. As I drove around the established perimeter, I saw police cars blocking every intersection even all the way to a couple of blocks from my church. It looked like a police state.
I didn’t expect it. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I wondered why. Why today and why here? I saw shopping plazas parking lots in the black community shut down and threats of arrests against our youth. When I finally arrived at the church mother’s house, red and blue police lights were everywhere. It was a community under siege.
I was no longer proud. I was dismayed in disbelief. I vowed to do something about this. If this was police policy, it must be opposed and ended, never again. As an organizer and a collaborationist, I chatted with Mayor Rick Kriseman the following morning and he dispatched the Police Chief Anthony Holloway and Rev. Kenny Irby to me and we agreed to have an intimate soul-searching truthful dialogue to address these issues.
I called all participants and invited them to a closed-door meeting. I invited all groups that have a vested interest in our city and in MLK Day. The direction was that each representative would take the discussion back to their constituents for informative purposes.
The people who I called to my church I hoped were collaborative-minded and solution oriented. Every position was represented. We identified problems with the MLK Day festivities and vowed to work together to problem solve through a task force of all involved people with MLK Day, including business owners and residents.
We must oppose any policy that can make legal a police siege of a community such as we saw on MLK Day. Such an effort must be about collaboration and communication for the purpose of measured strategies going forward or we will accomplish nothing.
We must not continue to specialize in identifying the issues and finger pointing only, which is a culture all too familiar in our community. We must specialize in collaboration and strategize for success and work with all others to that end.
Dr. King was all about collaboration with all factions and groups for the purpose of unity to accomplish a common goal. The meeting of the minds I called to Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church was groundbreaking and successful. We actual sat down peaceably and asked the police chief and city council tough questions. We were solution oriented. This is what good leaders do we lead towards solutions.
Was this a meeting to be the end all of these deeply rooted problems? Of course not, but unless we all come to the table with intellect and ideas after we have identified the problems then we will continue to accomplish nothing.
I personally support the task force as long as it is truly represented by all the factions, thoughts and ideas of the community. United we stand, divided we remain fallen. This level of trauma in the black community because of policy cannot happen ever again and we must work together to ensure that it doesn’t. The police are called to serve and protect, not taunt and traumatize.
Elder Dr. G. Gregg Murray, Pastor, Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church