Throughout this campaign for District 6 City Council, I, Eritha ‘Akile’ Cainion, have heard the term “public safety” thrown around time and time again.
Whether in forums from my opponents or debates among the mayoral candidates, there’s a shared idea amongst those tied to the status quo that public safety means more police, specifically in the black community.
Fortunately, that is not the belief of Jesse Nevel for mayor and myself for District 6.
In fact, our understanding of public safety is that it is contingent upon social and economic justice to the black community.
That justice comes in the form of reparations, hence our dynamic dual platforms.
The reality is this: St. Petersburg, Florida, is a divided city, a reality that no one can get around.
This city’s social and economic system finds its inception as a result of the exploitation of the black community.
It was black people that cleared the swamps to pave the way for St. Pete’s booming tourist industry. It was the Gas Plant District, a historically black community with 800 homes and 100 black-owned businesses, that was destroyed to build the Tropicana Field Dome for a baseball team.
It has always been the black community that has had to bear the brunt of gentrification, police violence, homelessness, poor education, poverty and more so that this city can continue on this road of so-called “progress.”
It is this relationship that has created the divide we see today. And it’s this divide that has created the basis for “public safety.”
When there’s a situation of the south side starving, homeless, and without a vision for the future, there’s nothing about that environment that is safe.
And streets down from that situation there is wealth along Central Avenue, throughout downtown, the north side and the waterfront.
When this reality is the one we’re confronting, it’s clear that the police’s function in this city is to maintain this oppressive relationship, where those who have, have it as a result of those who do not.
So when Rick Baker, Rick Kriseman and any of my opponents say they’re invested in public safety through means of over funding the police and pushing the public policy of police containment onto the black community, it’s really being pro-military occupation of the black community, similar to what you see in Iraq and Afghanistan, to further this existing divide.
Jesse and I know, however, that public safety comes with reparations and economic development to the black community.
No one should feel safe in a city where people are starving, people are homeless, people are being attacked by police, people are drinking fecal water.
No one should feel at ease when there’s a community suffering the most horrendous conditions created by this city government when prosperity is possible for all.
If public safety is really a huge priority for this city, it has to be defined by justice to the black community and justice looks like reparations.
There’s nothing safer than the black community having the ability to feed, clothe and house ourselves.
There’s nothing more safety ensuring than Black Community Control of the Police, where the black community has the ability to hire, fire, train and discipline those that should function in our community with arms as public servants of the people. Those elected would be members of the community because they have a stake in what happens there.
This also means the expulsion of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department out of St. Pete. This was a policy previous to Baker’s first mayoral term and with it the city went eight years without the murder of a black person by the police.
The city government’s current understanding of public safety through police containment has resulted in the numerous murders of black teens from Laboriel Felton, Javon Dawson, Marquell McCullough, Jarell Walker, TyRon Lewis, Laniya Miller, Ashaunti Butler, Dominique Battle and the demoralization of black youth altogether.
Who is supposed to feel safe in this system?
Surely it’s not the black community.
Black children do not feel safe under the public policy of police containment. There was an incident that happened at Gibbs High School last year where two black teenage girls were approached by armed police on school campus for wearing African head wraps. As a result, I joined forces with the girls on that campus as part of the Uhuru Movement to defend the rights of those girls to embrace their culture through wearing their head wraps and to demand the removal of police officers on school campuses as they are unnecessary and are used to harass and intimidate black children (in a recent forum all mayoral candidates were in agreement of police on school campus except for Jesse Nevel).
Who is supposed to feel safe in this city where the spokesperson for the St. Petersburg Police Department George Lofton and Chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party Susan McGrath, both who are supporters and directly accountable to current Mayor Kriseman, publicly label a black working class led movement as domestic terrorists that can have serious violent implications? There is no secret about what the U.S. government does to those labeled as threats to society.
To have such high ranking officials label the Uhuru Movement as such, which incites violence against my community, to discredit the campaigns of myself and Jesse, with the complicity of Kriseman and his administration, makes it clear that public safety is not in reference to the black community.
For genuine public safety, it will take a people’s movement to go against this status quo and the real criminals: those that function in City Hall.
A real threat to society is one that will dump 256 million gallons of sewage into your water.
A public safety concern is the slashing of tents containing homeless people.
A danger to the people is the fact that a city government operates in the pockets of big money, therefore, the interests of the people become secondary.
Not the 13-year-old-black child that the Tampa Bay Times has labeled the poster child for crime.
Public safety looks like power in the hands of the people, and power into the hands of the black community.
There’s nothing safer than economic development, affordable housing, reparations, and justice to the black community.
That’s the only way to move forward in this city. That’s the only way this divided city can ever be united.
No more public policy of police containment! Support Black Community Control of the Police and vote Jesse and Akile!
The primary is Aug. 29.