After the rash of murders and auto thefts that occurred involving juveniles, a disproportionate number of them being African American, the NAACP began to explore substantive solutions to hopefully aim at reducing the nearly 300 youths in south St. Petersburg that find themselves directly linked to most of the criminal behavior, specifically auto thefts.
While in the process of planning a summit of community stakeholders, the NAACP learned that Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was already convening his own summit. As opposed to duplicating efforts, the NAACP supported our participation in Gualtieri’s meeting.
The meeting resulted in two sub committees being formed, a programs committee and a systems committee. In light of my background, I not only volunteered to serve on the program committee, but to also chair it. Imagine my surprise when the list came out a couple of weeks later advising that Public Defender Bob Dillinger would chair the programs committee.
It didn’t matter to the sheriff that I serve as the president of the NAACP. It didn’t matter that I have an extensive background in the criminal justice system to include law enforcement, community corrections and juvenile justice. It didn’t matter that I have an extensive background in grant writing and program development. It didn’t matter that I was a resident of Midtown either.
The reason that none of that mattered was as just as Tampa Bay Times columnist Bill Maxwell wrote: “Too many conservatives routinely discredit black people and matters associated with black identity. They engage in, among other tactics, blaming the victim, crass denial and appropriation and distortion of black ideas and expressions.”
With all that I have to offer, I simply was not good enough to lead a group of volunteers. While the sheriff acknowledges that his decision wasn’t personal, it is even further evidence of Mr. Maxwell’s point about how easily black people can be discredited.
The only sure way we can begin to impact African-American children’s lives in a positive way is to acknowledge that maybe we have perpetuated a culture within this community that their lives do not matter!
Maria L. Scruggs
President, St. Petersburg Branch NAACP