Black Socialist Group Calls on Mayor to Settle With Family
Vickie Chachere, AP, TBO.com, May 13
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The leader of a black socialist group called Thursday for the mayor to settle a lawsuit with the family of a black motorist fatally shot by a police officer in 1996.
The comments came hours after police quelled a riot in the same neighborhood where the shooting of TyRon Lewis occurred, and as the trial for his family’s lawsuit neared its end.
Omali Yeshitela, a leader of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement in St. Petersburg, said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker “could save the city from going through a trauma by having the city attorneys make a settlement.”
The mayor’s office refused comment Thursday and referred all questions to the police department.
On Wednesday night, police in riot gear broke up an unruly crowd that threw rocks and bottles at cars and buildings after attorneys for Lewis’ family wrapped up their case against the city in court.
There were reports of gunfire, looting, and a car being set ablaze, police said. At least five people were injured, and four were arrested, police spokesman Bill Doniel said.
Two of those arrested were accused of shooting at police officers, Doniel said. About 100 police officers were dispatched to help manage the disturbances.
The family of Lewis, an 18-year-old motorist killed by Officer James Knight, is seeking $15,000 from the city in a lawsuit that went to trial this week.
Knight testified Tuesday that he tried to get Lewis out of a car, but the teenager locked the doors and repeatedly threatened the officer by nudging him with the vehicle, eventually knocking him onto the hood. Knight fired three times through the car windshield, killing Lewis, who had a felony warrant out for his arrest and 1.8 grams of cocaine in his pocket.
Attorneys for Lewis’ family, who are trying to prove Knight used his firearm in a negligent manner, rested their case Wednesday.
Yeshitela said that in recent days he has been getting a growing number of complaints from residents in predominantly black south St. Petersburg that police have been harassing them.
There has also been heightened tensions because of last week’s fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy by Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies, he said.
“The police here have been extremely aggressive and are pulling over Africans in the community,” Yeshitela said. “People are complaining of harassment. This sets the stage for what happened last night.”
Yeshitela said the situation is further exacerbated because many in south St. Petersburg do not feel that conditions have improved in the last eight years, although the city and the federal government have invested tens of millions of dollars in an effort to revitalize the area.
In Tragic Shooting, Some Words Merely Add More Heat Than Light
Mary Jo Melone, St. Petersburg Times, May 10, 2004
I am weary, truly weary, of Omali Yeshitela and his merry band of loudmouths.
But I’ll give them this: They sure do have a flair for language.
Of late, they have been saying that on May 2, two Pinellas sheriff’s deputies assassinated — that’s their word — a 17-year-old black teenager who deputies thought had just taken part in a drug deal.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Marquell D. McCullough used his truck as a battering ram. He allegedly struck one deputy’s car and then backed up so fast the other deputy had to jump on his own car to avoid getting hit.
When they couldn’t get McCullough to stop, the deputies shot him.
This illustrates a simple, almost scientific principle, and it has nothing to do with high octane words like assassination. If you use your car like a weapon against a cop, you are asking for serious, serious trouble.
But the facts, particularly the inconvenient ones, do not get in the way of Yeshitela & Co. Words are their weapons.
Of late, they have also gone after Darryl Rouson, the lawyer who is president of the St. Petersburg NAACP. Uncle Tom, they called him. Judas, they said.
Rouson also questions McCullough’s shooting. But assassination is not in his lexicon.
Was excessive force used? Can the testimony of one of the deputies, David V. Antolini, be trusted?
Rouson points to a 2001 incident, in which Antolini was caught misrepresenting information used to get a search warrant.
Perhaps most troubling is what didn’t happen that night. The two patrol cars were equipped with video cameras that could have recorded the scene. One camera was broken. The other had run out of tape.
Rouson asks whether that’s coincidence.
He is also comparing this to an incident in 1996, when St. Petersburg police shot TyRon Lewis after his car lurched toward an officer and bumped him. That episode led black neighborhoods to explode in protests. A suit by the Lewis family against the city is set to go to trial today.
Rouson’s questions are fair. They are more likely to be answered when posed by a man like him. Rouson is doing what he can to work with law enforcement, not oppose it.
In answer to chronic community suspicion of the police, Rouson issued a challenge in March. He urged St. Petersburg’s black churches to recruit 50 people to apply to become officers. He said he thought it was the best way to change the department, by working from within.
To Yeshitela, this is selling out, siding with the enemy.
There go those words again.
Deputies say they chased Marquell McCullough for several blocks before he pulled into a parking lot and appeared to stop. He had no weapon on him. That may explain why he used the handiest thing at his disposal, that truck.
The deputies said they called to him repeatedly to get out of the truck. When he tried to ram the patrol car, when he nearly hit one of the deputies, they fired off 15 rounds.
Their suspicions about McCullough appear to have been correct. Deputies say he was carrying 30 pieces of rock cocaine.
I don’t see how this is assassination. What it looks like is a kid heading in life’s bad direction coming to a bad end.
Assassination? Absolutely not.
Rouson told me last week that the “average black person” fears that if he is pulled over by the police, he may die. Marquell McCullough was not an average black person. He had crack on him. He was breaking the law.
If the facts uphold what I write here, it may be hard for Rouson to swallow, and hard for him to explain to people who put their faith in him but remain suspicious of law enforcement. But better Rouson, who wants to build trust with whites, than Yeshitela. Far better Rouson than a man who uses words like smoke, to cloud and obscure, not to clear.