Black leaders in Florida meet with St. Petersburg mayor over rising tensions with police

Mark Puente  Mark Puente, Times Staff Writer  Tuesday, May 28, 2013 5:16pm
ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Bill Foster and Police Chief Chuck Harmon agreed to hold regular meetings with black leaders after listening to their concerns about rising tensions between the African American community and police.
Leaders from NAACP, Urban League, ACLU and Childs Park neighborhood met with Foster and Harmon for 90 minutes at City Hall on Tuesday, focusing on high-speed police chases and two recent officer-involved shootings.
The meeting didn’t result in any policy changes, but black leaders called it productive.
“We are going to continue to meet to discuss things,” said the Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP. “We are still not on the same page.”
Black leaders said they are concerned about shootings in March and April in which officers shot into moving cars, which the department forbids unless there is a threat from someone with a gun. Both incidents are under investigation.
Two weeks ago, black leaders called a news conference saying tensions are rising between residents and officers who patrol predominantly black neighborhoods.

Foster called the meeting a “great discussion” and pledged to address the concerns.
“We are committed to bridging the gap between perception and data supported reality,” Foster added.
Sykes left the meeting with a stack of documents showing falling crime rates. Still, he said crime data doesn’t tell the whole story. He said he’s heard dozens of anecdotes from black males telling him they feel harassed by police.
He doesn’t want a repeat of the 1996 riots after police officers fatally shot Tyron Lewis during a traffic stop.
“We don’t want another tragedy,” Sykes said. “Statistics say one thing. One tragedy confirms perception.”
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, also attended.
Rouson is glad Foster listened and said many residents don’t share a perception of safer streets. He’s urging everyone to develop solutions.
“The community needs to feel safe,” he said. “The criminals need to feel the heat.”

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