Quick fixes do not work

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

After weeks of senseless murders in south St. Petersburg, public officials and community leaders find themselves scrambling for quick fixes to rectify a situation that has been mired in years of neglect toward the socio-economic status of the African-American community.

Mayor Rick Kriseman held a march on Central Avenue, Councilmember Karl Nurse is having his usual isolated conversation with the chief of police about a curfew and yet the Tampa Bay Times called these conversations as “Thinking out of the box.”

According to the Times, City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch really had an out of the box idea. She wants the city to charge a fee on the purchase of guns and ammunition and then create a fund for a gun violence education program. According to the Times, she hasn’t spoken to the mayor about this idea and I can only pray she doesn’t.

The children committing the crimes with these guns are not walking into the local gun shops and purchasing them. They are stealing them; therefore, any fee imposed would simply be another economic burden on law-biding citizens. Any gun education program, I would guess, would be imposed on children who would not have the propensity to purchase or utilize guns illegally in the first place.

Our top cop, Chief Holloway, is launching his new program aimed at educating some of the children, not sure which ones, and a group of African-American pastors are holding their own separate march that will culminate with a rally.

While I believe that those who have decided to take some action are well intended, the question looms: when will black and white leaders in St. Petersburg recognize that the socio-economic issues inherent within the African-American community are systemic and there is no single silver bullet that will fix the problem?

Quick fixes simply give elected, appointed and self-anointed leaders a platform to say, “look at me” or “look at what I have done.” A quick fix will not generate a substantive change within the African-American community.

The reality is some of the usual suspects have received a couple of coins, somebody got a plaque and some folks got to hold a press conference. When reaching for the Bible to understand the works and to identify a biblical frame to my comments, I was led to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This text is referred to as the “love chapter” where the Apostle Paul lists 16 characteristics of love. Two of those characteristics are quite relevant when talking about the love for our children. One characteristic refers to love not rejoicing in the unrighteous, but love does rejoicing in the truth.

It is from this premise that I appeal to all the elected officials, appointed and self-proclaimed leaders that if indeed they truly love and care about black children, in the year 2016 let’s please follow in the path of the Apostle Paul. Let us stop making noise and taking self-serving actions under the guise of loving/caring.

Let us begin to tell the truth about why and how our children came to accept a lifestyle that not only devalues the lives of others, but places even less value on their own lives. The blood that has been shed to date is merely the outcome of years of degradation that has existed within city, the county and the public school system.

May 21, 2015, the St. Petersburg City Council approved south St. Petersburg as a community redevelopment area. The designation was also approved by the Pinellas County Commission. In pages full of graphics and a hodgepodge of activities, city officials have tried to sell this plan as a way to reduce poverty in south St. Pete.

Every redevelopment plan I have reviewed and that exists within the City of St. Petersburg are formed in such a way that residents can really envision the redevelopment that will enhance the quality of life for residents and businesses in areas such as Central Avenue or the Waterfront.

Not so much when one reviews the Southside CRA. The plan is couched in all that is wrong with south St. Petersburg.  The solutions are a listing of various projects and activities with no strategic focus. No one can begin to tell you how these projects, if implemented, would move the needle toward an enhanced quality of life in south St. Petersburg.

The most disturbing thing is that after almost two years of monitoring this process from the perspective as a resident who has made the investment to return to south St. Petersburg and a resident who has more than 30 years of public sector experience, city officials and the Community Advisory Committee, which is a handful of nice citizens who have little to no stake in the improved quality of life in south St. Petersburg, have rejected my input. My input, by the way, is the same input that members of the African-American community are often criticized for not providing.

For those of you with any doubt, go to the City of St. Petersburg’s website and review the Southside CRA plan, then for comparison go to the Newtown Redevelopment plan in Sarasota. This plan speaks of a vision of Newtown being a destination. Their vision is supported with clear and concise goals and objectives that will lay the foundation for that journey.

That doesn’t mean that everything will work perfectly, what it says is they have a plan and with that plan they have a road map that can be tweaked if proven to be ineffective, unlike the Southside CRA that has no clear and concise plan. Residents and businesses have to depend on city officials to tell them how good the plan is working for them, in spite of what we may physically see and experience.

As the President of the NAACP, we have been presented with a mere offer to accept a project idea or two, which will only add to the hodgepodge of activities while the city remains steadfast in moving forward with a plan to chop up the largest piece of publicly-owned land to satisfy political favors.

In 2016, it is imperative that the African-American community rise up and collectively reject a plan that will simply place a couple pieces of silver in individuals hands and will do very little to bring any substantive changes in the lives of residents and businesses within south St. Petersburg.

~ Maria L. Scruggs ~

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