Stop the silence

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

“When officers arrived, they found Evans lying by a trash bin behind the squat building.”

That description in a Nov. 30 Tampa Bay Times article described the location  of 18-year-old Jerrod Evans’ body after  having  been shot in the upper torso and left for dead as if he was just another wad of trash thrown beside the dumpster.

Davonte Scott was arrested Tuesday morning for the shooting death and Darzaughn Williams, 18, was arrested for being an accessory after the fact.

Within minutes the lives of three and potentially more African-American families in south St. Petersburg were torn apart as a result of young black men killing black young men, for what, I dare to guess.

Within the last two and a half months, the St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP has been working tirelessly to rebuild the operations for the once suspended branch. We are also responding to residents like Constance Bailey, a retired Pinellas County School teacher and disabled veteran, who claims that she has been denied the right to live where she would like to because she is a black female who happens to be disabled.

While we find ourselves engulfed within the advocacy strategies associated with residents like Bailey, the south side of St. Petersburg finds itself in turmoil with black men killing other black men.

I contend that while we struggle with understanding why these young men find very little value in the lives of those who look like them, there is a truth we must accept and acknowledge. There are cultural conditions within St. Petersburg that foster self-destructive lifestyles. The community turns a blind eye, remains silent even attempting to hold a neutral position concerning situations that consistently tear at the fiber of wellness in our community.

We live in a city where five of the poorest performing elementary schools are within our community, yet our elected officials and community leaders are silent.

We live in a community where nearly 150 religious institutions are within a three-mile radius, yet the heads of these institutions lack the zeal to put down their differences and stand united in finding solutions that are tearing at the fiber of our community.

We live in a community where the media eliminates human-interest stories that highlight the positive aspects of black people in St. Pete, yet our elected officials and leaders remain silent.

We live in a city where the first African-American preschool, Happy Workers, cannot receive a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. $5,000 grant because the volunteers willing to aide them in creating an environment conducive for learning isn’t consistent with the goals of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service project.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the world’s leading voices on morality, saw first-hand how apathetic   responses to South African apartheid by countries who claimed the moral high ground simply lead to the further institutionalization of the apartheid regime.

Archbishop Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

The residents of south St. Petersburg must make the decision if they are to remain silent concerning the conditions that foster an environment that says it is OK to kill someone who looks like you. On January 1, 2016, during the NAACP’s Emancipation Proclamation Service, will leaders within this community honestly and publicly declare an end to the code of silence and positions of neutrality?

Then and only then we will have the credibility to impress upon the youth of our community the value that their precious lives hold.

~ Maria L. Scruggs ~

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